Hefty Fines Aim To Reduce Illegal Outdoor Fires

SNOW HILL – New fines for unauthorized outdoor fires should steer citizens to get the necessary permits, Worcester County Fire Marshal Jeff McMahon hopes.

The County Commissioners introduced a bill increasing those fines and others at the Tuesday County Commissioners’ meeting.

Current fines for unpermitted outdoor fires and other infractions of the public safety code, $25 for a first offense and $100 for later offenses, are too small to be a deterrent, according to the fire marshal.

 “We’ve had some repeat offenders,” McMahon said. “The fine we can give them is a very limited fine.”

Some offenders would rather pay the fine than haul their burnable debris to the landfill and pay the tipping fees to dispose of it there, he said.

The bill as written establishes minor, intermediate and major infractions, with corresponding fines of $25 for the first minor offense, and $100 for repeat incidents; $100 for first intermediate offense, and $500 per repeat incidents; and $500 for the first major offense and $1,000 per repeat incidents.

The regulations also cover exit and emergency lights, fire extinguishers, wiring, equipment clearance, smoke detectors, alarm systems, fire doors, hazardous material storage, fireworks and pyrotechnics and false alarms.

Fire marshal personnel respond to all calls about unpermitted fires, oftentimes after working hours. Those personnel spend time with citizens then to educate them on proper fire procedure and precautions.

Many do not know about the law requiring a permit or the process to get one, according to McMahon.

“We work with those people,” said McMahon.

People do not need a permit to burn leaves on their own property if there is no burn ban, often enacted in dry summer conditions, in place.

Commissioner Bud Church questioned the wording of the legislation, wondering whether burning stumps or other debris should come under the same heading as working with chemical or nuclear material.

That language is included in the bill to cover fake pr simulated explosive devices, McMahon said.

“It’s the fact they created a hoax,” said McMahon.

Offendors will not necessarily get a citation, county attorney Sonny Bloxom said.

“I look at it as a deterrent,” said McMahon.

The new, higher fines are not a reaction to the sagging economy.

“These are not to be used as revenue-raising measures,” said Bloxom.

The fire marshal is also proposing changes to regulate nuisance alarms.

One of the big issues, McMahon said, is the payments made to fire and emergency units for false call-outs generated by faulty alarm systems. Those false signals tend to occur often when an alarm system breaks or is not kept up.

While property owners can be tasked with fixing such an alarm, if they do not obey, the law would permit the fire marshal’s office to disconnect it. Fines can also be issued until the problem is corrected.

Commissioner Bobby Cowger agreed that changes need to be made to the law, noting that a nursing home in the south end of the county with a faulty alarm requires three fire departments to respond because of its size.

“You’ve got 75 to 100 guys responding to a false alarm,” Cowger said. “Something needs to be done.”

Public hearings on the fire regulations will be held June 16.