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‘Check before you burn:' Officials urge residents to look at index before using pits

Press Photo by Nadya Faulx With camping season around the corner, the Dickinson Fire Department is proactively reminding residents to check the range fire index before lighting up outdoor fireplaces or fire pits, like this one shown Tuesday at the Patterson Lake Recreational Area.

It may not be camping weather just yet — give it a few more degrees — but the Dickinson Fire Department is already reminding residents to check safety conditions before lighting up an outdoor fire pit or fireplace.

“We’re getting very busy chasing fire pits,” Fire Chief Bob Sivak said.

The Stark County Department of Emergency Services, citing dry condition, declared a fire emergency and instituted a burn ban last week that will last until further notice.

Residents wishing to start a controlled fire will first have to check the county’s fire range index, available on the Dickinson Fire Department website, The index was at moderate for Stark County as of Tuesday, meaning there was some potential for fires to spread.

But not everyone remembers to check, said Bill Fahlsing, the emergency manager for Stark County.

“We receive a lot of calls into the dispatch center about burning,” he said. “Citizens are more conscious with the actions of starting a fire, whether controlled or out of hand.”

Some follow the burn ban, but there are those that decide to have bonfires or light up the pits regardless of safety conditions, he said.

“Every county’s going to deal with that,” he added.

Dickinson senior fire inspector Mark Selle said that not only are fire pits becoming more popular, but many people aren’t aware of the ban in place, particularly newcomers to the area.

“The community is increasing so much, everyone needs to be educated,” Selle said. “You can’t assume everyone knows.

“There are new citizens in the area from other parts of the country; they have different regulations,” he added.

The fire range index is listed every morning — with occasional changes throughout the day — listing the potential fire hazard from Low to Extreme. The fire ban is in place whenever the index is at High, Very High or Extreme; the maximum penalty for violating the ban is steep: 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Even at Low or Moderate risk levels, fires must stay under three feet and have to be contained in a covered pit to prevent ashes and embers from flying out, fire prevention specialist Deb Barros said.

The full fire pit and burn ban regulations can be found on the Fire Department website, but Barros said residents with questions should “just make a phone call” to the department main line at 701-456-7625 or to police dispatch at 701-456-7759.

Fahlsing said the county and Dickinson Fire Department also post updates on their social media accounts. The fire range index is listed each day on the Stark County Emergency Department Facebook.

Barros said that though the information is readily available, it’s up to residents to check conditions before starting a fire.

“If people don’t take the time look at it, or listen, they’re going to miss something,” Barros said. “Really research, ‘Is it ok for me to do this?’”