Grass fire season: Care, common sense urged

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Frank Schultz
Sunday, April 6, 2014

The burn season has returned to southern Wisconsin. The combination of fuel, wind and fire can turn ugly fast, as it has a number of times in recent days.

One of the latest “controlled burns” that got out of control happened Sunday afternoon as residents were burning grass in a marsh area in the 5000 block of North Tarrant Road in the town of Johnstown, said Milton Fire Chief Loren Lippincott.

The fire burned about 10 acres of last year's grass and corn stubble before firefighters got it under control, Lippincott said.

The residents had called the fire department ahead of time, as required in the Milton Fire Response Area.

“They were trying to do everything right. It's just that the wind came up, and it got away from them,” Lippincott said.

No one was hurt, and no buildings were damaged.

“My general advice is don't burn at all,” Lippincott said jokingly when asked for this thoughts.

“You just have to be prepared to take care of it if something starts to get away from you,” Lippincott added.

Anyone who burns anything outdoors should check with the local municipal government for regulations.

Some towns allow burning only during certain times of the year. Some charge fees or fines for those who don't notify authorities in advance.

In Rock County, residents are asked to call the Rock County Communications Center, 608-757-2244, before any burn.

The communications center staff can tell residents whom to contact in their area for permission. In some areas, it's a fire department; in others, the local government.

The communications center also will log the time, date and place of a burn and get a callback number, said Mark Elland, communications center shift supervisor.

Some areas, such as Fulton and Edgerton, require an annual permit for burning from the Edgerton Fire Department, Elland said.

Some towns allow burning only during certain times. Burns are permitted in April in the towns of Beloit and Turtle, for example.

“The citizen has to use commons sense because if it's obviously too windy or been dry too long, we'd prefer they wouldn't burn.” Elland said.

The communications center has no authority to stop anyone from burning, “but some days, we advise them strongly not to,” Elland said.

Larger municipalities, such as Beloit and Janesville, do not allow burning, although they might issue special permits in limited circumstances, Elland said.

Local ordinances vary. In the Milton area, a landowner can be charged for the cost of extinguishing a controlled burn that gets out of control.

The Department of Natural Resources says the current fire danger is moderate in Rock, Walworth and Jefferson counties and high in areas to the west, including Green and Dane counties.

Conditions, of course, are subject to change.

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