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County officials consider burn ban

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GREENFIELD — Hancock County could be under a burn ban as early as today.

Hancock County Commissioners were meeting at 8 a.m. today to discuss prohibiting people from having open fires due to the dry, hot weather.

Fifty-nine other counties in Indiana are already under burn bans, including neighboring counties of Madison, Henry, Rush and Shelby.

All of the county’s fire chiefs are in agreement that a ban should be in place, said Buck Creek Township Fire Chief David Sutherlin.

Sutherlin said fires can spread more easily with dry conditions. Last week, for example, 10 acres of a field just outside Fortville caught fire, likely from a motorist tossing out a cigarette.

Monday afternoon, a grass fire started on a residential lawn in Greenfield. Greenfield Fire Chief James Roberts said the cause was unknown.

“There’s been a number of small, open burns; it’s kind of a ticking time bomb right now,” Roberts said.

Details of the burn ban will be ironed out at today’s meeting. Sutherlin said he would like it to be in effect until the county sees a significant rainfall of at least one inch. The county is suffering through one of the driest Junes on record.

But just what kind of jurisdiction county commissioners have is in question.

County attorney Ray Richardson said councils in cities and towns can set bans, and county commissioners have jurisdiction over unincorporated parts of the county. Similarly, last week commissioners discussed countywide animal control ordinances, but Richardson reminded them they can only pass laws for residents in unincorporated areas.

Roberts, however, said it’s important for everyone to heed the chiefs’ plea.

“I’m just going by what 59 other counties have done in the state,” Roberts said. “I’d hate to think we’d have to go to the extent of having to go to every municipality in the county (to enact individual burn bans). That would defeat the purpose of trying to be ahead of the game.”

How a burn ban may affect fireworks is also up in the air. Sutherlin said it’s impossible for local fire departments to regulate private fireworks. He said people should keep water or an extinguisher nearby to put out flames should a firecracker or other device start a fire.

Municipal fireworks, like the one planned for July 4 for the city of Greenfield, also cannot be halted. Roberts said state statute does not allow for local government to regulate July 4 festivities, but he said fireworks shows may be voluntarily called off.

“When it gets close to the Fourth of July, we’re going to get extremely busy,” Roberts said.

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