County to examine procedures after fire miscommunicationA miscommunication Wednesday resulted in Stutsman County employees inadvertently violating the county’s own burning restrictions. “Dispatch will be changing their procedures” so that the incident doesn’t occur again, Stutsman County Auditor/Chief Operating Officer Casey Bradley said Wednesday.
By: Kari Lucin, The Jamestown Sun
A miscommunication Wednesday resulted in Stutsman County employees inadvertently violating the county’s own burning restrictions.
“Dispatch will be changing their procedures” so that the incident doesn’t occur again, Stutsman County Auditor/Chief Operating Officer Casey Bradley said Wednesday.
At 3:50 a.m. Wednesday, Stutsman County was assigned a “very high” rating on the fire danger index by the National Weather Service. That meant the county’s burning restrictions were in place during that period of time.
At about 8 a.m., Dennis Lorenz, superintendent of the Stutsman County Park Department, called the Stutsman County Communications Center to let the dispatchers know that he intended to burn several piles of branches on the Jamestown Reservoir Island, near the water.
The dispatcher took down the information without telling Lorenz the burn ban was in effect — but it was not the dispatcher’s responsibility to inform Lorenz, said Jerry Bergquist, the county’s emergency manager and 911 coordinator.
“It was wet enough this morning that we thought ‘we’ll be all right, and we’re going to be watching it anyway,’” Lorenz said. “… I’d called down and told them I was going to have this burn. It’s right down by the water down here.”
After several people called dispatch to alert authorities to the fire, Sgt. Elizabeth Kapp of the Stutsman County Sheriff’s Office went to the site and told county workers of the burning restrictions. They put out the fire and Kapp did not issue a citation.
“The citation was not given based on the fact that they did notify dispatch, and dispatch did not tell them that in fact the burn ban was on,” Bradley explained.
At 11:57 a.m., the National Weather Service changed Stutsman County’s fire danger index to high, and at 12:28 p.m., it was changed again to low.
Those adjustments came even though the winds were still gusting up to 45 mph.
“The high relative humidities are actually the determining factor in this case,” said Patrick Ayd, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, which determines the fire danger index.
Ayd said that the NWS believed Wednesday would be drier than it turned out to be.
“If it’s a windy day, people also need to take caution, and their own responsibility is if it’s right to burn even if it’s legal to burn,” Ayd added.
Bergquist, who monitors the NWS fire danger index for Stutsman County, said he had never before seen the county’s fire index condition to change three times in a single day.
Lorenz said the fires were supervised while they were burning, and added that they had taken a great deal of accelerant to start because of how wet everything was at that location.
“When we got to work this morning it had rained,” Lorenz said. “… if I’d been concerned, I would never ever have lit that thing on fire.”
Dave Schwartz of the Stutsman County Park Board said he believed county officials would likely discuss the issue.
Bradley said the sheriff’s office would submit a report to the park board on the issue, and that the Park Board would decide if disciplinary action is required for any county park employees.
Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be
reached at 701-952-8453
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