Officials define what a burn ban actually means

INDEPENDENCE COUNTY, AR (KAIT) – The Arkansas Forestry Commission now lists almost every county in Northeast Arkansas under a burn ban until further notice, but some may ask what that means.

A burn ban is exactly what the name implies – no outside burning of any kind until the ban is lifted. Open burning at this time is considered extremely dangerous to people, buildings, trees and grasslands. Violations are serious, punishable by fines and/or imprisonment.

County judges across the area have issued burn bans one after the other this week, as conditions have worsened.

Last week, a hay rake traveling down a road near Batesville sent sparks flying into the shoulder. The dry brush caught fire immediately. The accidental blaze showed Robert Griffin, the Independence County judge, just how dangerous the conditions had become, so he issued a burn ban.

The burn ban prohibits anyone in the county from openly burning waste, like dried leaves or other brush. Farmers are exempt, but anyone caught illegally burning could be charged with a Class A Misdemeanor. The offense is punishable by a one-year jail sentence or $2,500 fine.

Prohibiting people from shooting fireworks is not included in a county-wide burn ban. Many towns, however, have decided to ban them.

Judge Griffin says he wanted to compromise and see if his county's fire chiefs would designate "safe areas" to shoot off fireworks. Most have told him no because of the high liability and dangerously dry conditions.

The sweltering heat has prompted many to bump down their thermostats too. The Batesville Fire Department has responded to several structure fires recently, and firefighters believe the overuse of air conditioning units may have sparked the blazes.

Judge Griffin says the burn ban in Independence County remains in effect until there's a deep soaking rain, but the forecast looks hot and dry for the near future.

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