Fire ban sparks heated debate

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

Concerns about a proposed year-round fire ban have apparently been spreading like wildfire since Roosevelt County Commissioners tabled the measure two weeks ago.

The ordinance was tabled again Tuesday after rural residents and local fire departments representatives grilled commissioners on the proposal during a public hearing that drew such a large audience the meeting was moved into the district courtroom.

Before opening the public hearing, commissioners explained the proposed ordinance would stay on the books year-round, with mechanisms in place to allow the ban to be lifted when conditions were favorable.

In the past, commissioners enacted resolutions to create burn bans. They said the process takes longer and does not have same enforceability as an ordinance.

“I don’t believe anyone (commissioners) here wants it to be year-round,” Commissioner Gene Creighton said. “It was unenforceable, really, if anyone challenged it.”

One audience member questioned whether specific criteria or language would trigger the ban.

“If our local fire departments come to us wanting us to enact a ban, we’re going to consider that,” Commissioner David Sanders said.

County Attorney Randy Knudson indicated the proposed ordinance didn’t have a specific trigger, just when the fire danger was high.

“This ordinance is only going to come in play when there are extreme conditions, Knudson said. “It would only be in place to protect the public.”

Other residents asked questions about welding and trash burning, areas of the ordinance Knudson and commissioners agreed were vague.

“I want a fire ban, yes,” Milnesand Fire Chief John Mohan said. “But the details and terminology we need to work on.”

As commissioners tabled the issue they agreed to setting up a committee of residents and fire personnel to work with Knudson to refine the language and address concerns.

In other business commissioners:

• Approved a summary review plat for a subdivision proposed by George Byrd near the intersection of Roosevelt Roads N and 6. The subdivision seeks four lots on 144.7 acres.

• Approved the annual certification of county maintained road mileage to the state transportation department at 1,276 miles.

• Heard a report from Jesse Mowrer on the Roosevelt County Emergency Preparedness Plan.

• Took a tour of the city of Portales’ mobile command post.