Spring means yard debris cleanup and burn season in Montana and, for the tri-county area, that also means obtaining a burn permit.
Burn permits serve several functions from practical to safety, but counties primarily use them as a means of reducing emergency calls, said West Valley Fire Chief Jerry Shepherd.
“The No. 1 reason is to help out the 911 dispatchers and more importantly, our volunteer firefighters to help with tracking when a neighbor calls in smoke in the area,” he said. “It allows 911 dispatchers to get the log and map so that the neighbors know it’s a controlled burn.”
Those who want to burn debris may purchase permits through state or county websites or at county offices. A new permit is $8 and a renewal is $5. Both are good for the entire burn season.
When the permit holder decides they are ready to burn, they must activate the permit either by calling 1-877-453-BURN or at https://app.mt.gov/burnpermit/. As well as purchasing or activating permits, the website offers a daily map of activated burn permits.
“The burn permit program has really lowered the number of chasing smoke calls,” Shepherd said. “The other nice thing is that map that people can use when they see smoke and check if it’s a controlled burn.”
Burning comes with several regulations. Only natural vegetation may be burned. Treated wood or garbage does not comply with air quality regulations, Shepherd said.
The other major requirements include attending to the fire at all times and having a means of extinguishing it. If a controlled burn does get out of control, responsibility falls on those doing the burning.
“One of the scary things is you look at some of the past bad fires and a lot of those are from burns that were three days old and they thought they were out,” Shepherd said. “It’s just like coals around a camp fire; it looks like it’s out but the wind comes up. If you lose it, you own it.”
Shepherd recommends burning in the morning as conditions tend to be calmer. Depending on fire danger or air quality, counties may also put restrictions on permitted open burning.