Maine Forest Service concerned about holiday fire safety

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AUGUSTA – The Maine Forest Service is cautioning towns and residents against using third-party, non-sanctioned online burn permit systems after at least two fires occurred this spring. The fires likely would not have resulted if the officially sanctioned state online burn permit system had been used instead of that of a third party.

On June 8, about eighty letters were mailed out to Town Managers and Fire Chiefs that use privately based online burn permit systems. It requested that each community “immediately discontinue its use of these (privately owned electronic burn permit) systems.” Most have already complied and are utilizing the official state system (www.maineburnpermit.com) that has been in place since 2005, issuing over 88,000 online burn permits.

Initially, most towns adhered to the letter and stopped using the privately owned online burn permit systems. This week, some of the subscribers to the privately owned online burn permit systems have allowed burn permits to be issued. With the 4th of July Holiday weekend approaching, the Maine Forest Service is concerned about escaped brush pile fires and the use of illegal burn permits. In the past, there have been a lot of wildfires during the 4th of July weekend.

State fire safety officials have learned that at least one system has continued to issue permits despite the notification that their system is not legal under current Maine state law.

The Maine Forest Service issued the letter based on a recent review of the legality of the privately owned online burn permit systems by the State Attorney General’s Office. In short, the law only allows state owned online burn permit systems to be used. Maine towns and residents are warned not to use the illegal third-party systems because:

  • There is a question about liability should a permit issued by a privately owned system result in an escaped wildfire that destroys property or causes injury and or death
  • A burn permit is a legal document required to be administered by the Maine Forest Service, who authorizes town fire wardens to issue permits based on local conditions
  • If the state system is not used, it is possible that the person with no background or training in fire safety may approve the permit

THE DANGER OF PRIVATE SYSTEMS:

Several brush pile burns issued through privately owned systems have escaped. The most recent fire occurred in the town of China on April 15, 2017, when an escaped fire burned a barn and an apartment. The fire also knocked down power lines in the area.

SEE: http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/04/15/fire-destroys-barn-apartment-in-china/

Another fire occurred when a person, using a privately owned online burn permit system, had the fire escape and burn one acre in Litchfield on April 14, 2016. That fire threatened two structures and resulted in a summons for the landowner. In both cases, the wildfires occurred because the permits through the privately owned online systems were issued during the day, which is when most escaped fires occur.

In 2012, careless issuing of permits through a private online system resulted in a wildfire in a town in central Maine. According to the Ranger, the Fire Chief “forgot to turn off the permit system” and allowed it to issue electronic burn permits on a class 3 (high fire danger) day in the fall. One of the fires escaped and the local Fire Dept. was called in to contain it. This would not have happened with the state system, because it automatically shuts down on a class three or higher day.

The Maine Forest Service online burn permit system does not allow burning until after 5pm, when the winds die down and the temperature drops. If these citizens used the state system, it is likely that the escaped fires would not have occurred.

There are only two ways to obtain a valid permit in Maine. One is a paper permit provided to towns by the Maine Forest Service at no cost. The other is through an online system developed by the Director of the Maine Forest Service. Municipalities can adopt additional permits through ordinance, but the Maine Forest Service permit is still required. No other permit is authorized by statute and individuals burning without one of the two Maine Forest Service permits are in violation of Maine law and may be responsible to pay suppression costs should their fire escape.

It is proven to be a safe and convenient system and has greatly improved our fire prevention efforts. The system only allows burning on class 1 or 2 days after 5pm, when the risk of an escaped fire is lower. It should be noted that escaped brush piles are the leading cause of wildfires in Maine.

The Maine online burn permit system allows Forest Rangers and Town Fire Wardens monitor all permits issued via email or text messaging. In the event that fire conditions change, they also have the ability to shut the system down temporarily, block unauthorized users and increase the restrictions listed on the permit.

Although the permits cost $7.00 each, the permit is valid over a 48 hour period and $2.00 from every permit goes back to the town. The intension of the revenue sharing is to benefit the fire departments, but it is up to the town how the money is used.