By Polly Mikula
The forest fire that broke out Saturday, May 15, in Killington has been contained but is still smoldering. After initially being contained, it flared up again Wednesday and Thursday last week, requiring fire departments from 10 towns to provide mutual aid. Killington Fire Warden Tom Rock said they are still monitoring it and smoke could be seen behind the Grange Hall on River Road Monday and Tuesday mornings, May 24-25.
“The recent rain has helped,” Rock said, Monday. “Some of the smoke is a result of the rain we had yesterday.”
The fire burned 25-26 acres initially and the flare-up added a few more. State Forest Fire Supervisor Lars Lund, who was on the scene, estimated that in total it burned about 30 acres, which puts it squarely in the category of a “large forest fire for Vermont,” he said.
“It started out as a surface fire, then it held over as a ground fire, a smoldering fire. It was so dry. Days later it turned back into a surface fire and actually jumped the ATV trail we had been using.”
The location of the fire made it extra challenging, he added. “The terrain was similar to a black diamond ski slope!”
The owners of the land were new to the area having purchased it recently. They moved to Vermont from Colorado, according to town officials. They were burning brush and “slash” left over by previous logging on the land when the fire got out of control, according to Rock. They did not have a permit to burn as required by town ordinance.
“A reimbursement ordinance gives towns the ability to recoup some of the money it costs to devote resources to putting out such a fire,” Lund explained. “But how much is assessed, if any, will be up to the town and the specific language of its ordinance… State law allows for ticketing for burning without a permit, but it’s a whopping $47/per day,” he said. “There are no other mechanisms for assessing a fine at the state level.”
The Killington Volunteer Fire Dept. service reimbursement ordinance states that: “‘Non-permitted burn’ shall mean the intentional disposal of outside debris via burning, without the verbal and/or written permission of authorized officials within the Fire Dept.” In Article VI on invoicing, the ordinance states: “Non-permitted burns shall be invoiced per occurrence, as per state law and this ordinance, with the individual responsible for the burn being held responsible.” It goes on to say that invoicing rates are $200/hour for an apparatus and $20/hour per emergency service responder.
“All enforcement, invoicing and application of this ordinance is the responsibility of the municipal manager or his/her designee of the town of Killington,” it reads.
The town of Killington has not yet publicly considered whether it will invoice the landowners for the department’s efforts to put out the wildfire.
The Killington Fire Department, however, states on its website that it “wishes to remind everyone… that when you start to think about cleaning up your yard, you will need a permit to burn material. Call the fire warden at 422-3760 before you want to burn.”
But Lund cautioned, “if the weather pattern continues it will be dry, dry, dry and it’s windy today, too… don’t be surprised if your local warden says they won’t give out a permit if they conditions are not favorable. We’re trying to get out a campaign to help Vermonters called ‘Plan your burn’,” he added. The campaign will aim to educate Vermonters about how to have safer fires (smaller fires that you feed, rather than one large burn, for example) as well as regulations that accompany a permit, such as all fires must be attended at all times.
Unpermitted fireworks are illegal
In advance of the Memorial Day holiday, fire personnel across the state wish to remind locals and visitors alike that in Vermont all fireworks (not including sparklers and other novelty smoke devices) are illegal except for permitted, supervised public fireworks displays, according to firesafety.vermont.gov. A permit for display is required by the local chief of police and fire departments of the municipality in which the display is to be held. The use, possession, sale and distribution of fireworks is legal only after the permit is granted. Applications for a permit must be made at least 15 days in advance of the fireworks display.