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More than 600 burn permits issued this month

by DERRICK PERKINS
Editor | April 27, 2021 7:00 AM

The Lincoln County Health Department has issued 603 burn permits since the start of the management and residential burn season, officials say.

The season began April 1 and, so far, most people are following the rules, said Jake Mertes, county environmental health specialist, at last week’s county commissioner meeting. Many of the residents asking for a permit are new to the county or new to burning season, he said.

“A lot of new ones this year,” he said. “A lot of new people that moved to town are getting permits or people who didn’t think they needed them.”

And the weather has thus this year far cooperated, Mertes said. Out of the preceding 14 days, air quality was deemed moderate or better, he said.

County Commissioner Jerry Bennett (D-2) raised the idea of possibly extending the burn season. That could dilute the effect of so many burns, he said.

Mertes agreed, particularly when it came to management burns. He said that county officials could, if given the green light, decide whether to allow burns on any given day of the year. It would just require checking the conditions, he said.

“As long as people called and listened to the hotline and did whatever the hotline said we’d be really good,” Mertes said.

“Then it spreads out over the whole year and you’re not getting a consolidation in a month,” Bennett said.

County Commissioner Mark Peck (D-1) voiced his support for a possible reform of burn season. There are days in December, he said, that are perfect for burns.

Kathi Hooper, health department director, said the move would require a local ordinance change as well as coordination with the state.

Under the current rules, the residential burn season runs through the end of April. Management burns are allowed through June. No burning is permitted through the summer months. Management burns can resume in October depending on the length of Montana’s fire season.

All residents preparing to burn vegetative debris in Libby or its surrounding environs, regardless of the type of burn, must check the county’s air quality hotline at 406-293-5644. Officials request that residents avoid burning wet materials as it produces excess smoke.