Commissioners declare emergency

The Whitley County Commissioners have added the exclamation point to the now week-old ban on open burning in the county.On Monday afternoon, the three-man board signed a Declaration of Limited Local Disaster Emergency, Open Burn Ban.The declaration states “a state of emergency exists in the county.”The commissioners declared “a countywide burn ban affecting certain activities is an appropriate public safety response to the fire hazards presented by the current drought conditions.”Cathy Broxon-Ball, Director of Whitley County Emergency Management-Department of Homeland Security presented the declaration to the commissioners.“It’s bad,” said Broxon-Ball Monday before the meeting of the commissioners. “I think the volunteers were out a lot this weekend,” she said.At least nine calls on grass and brush fires were called into the sheriff’s department between Friday and Sunday.Commissioner Don Amber said he’d been getting calls from residents complaining because many people associate fall weather with campfires and bonfires.“This is usually the time of year when we traditionally have fires,” he said.Several firefighters were on hand at the meeting to show support of the declaration.“I don’t want to put tradition (fall campfires) ahead of safety,” said Thomas E. LaRue, Columbia City fire chief.The commissioners agreed.“We’ve got to make some kind of statement here,” said Commissioner Michael Schrader.The following are forbidden as a result of the declaration:•Campfires or other recreational fires.•Open burning of any kind using conventional fuel, wood or other combustible material.•Burning debris, timber or vegetation, grass or leaves or such debris that results from building construction activities.•Burning in burn barrels.The exception to the declaration is cooking with grills fueled by charcoal briquettes, natural gas or propane.Despite some light rainfall in the past few days, the firefighters on hand at the meeting said it hasn’t been sufficient to lessen the risk of open flames getting out of control.They said that until there is enough rainfall to moisten the ground sufficiently, the grass, twigs and leaves on the ground are still volatile enough to pose significant danger of fire spreading rapidly.Broxon-Ball said she and the Whitley County Fire Chiefs’ Association along with the commissioners would determine when it would be safe to lift the ban.