By JARED JERNAGAN
GREENCASTLE -- County Commissioner president Gene Beck signed an open burning ban on Wednesday afternoon. The ban encompasses unincorporated areas of the county.
Since the ban is considered an emergency measure in light of drought conditions, only Beck's approval was required to keep it in effect for seven days. For the ban to remain beyond 1 p.m. Oct. 27, the board of commissioners must have a special meeting and vote on the measure.
With a chance of precipitation for the weekend, an extension of the ban may not be necessary.
"If it rains this weekend, that might change everything," Beck said.
Before Wednesday, only the Roachdale Fire District, which includes the Town of Roachdale and Jackson and Franklin townships, had a burn ban in place.
Currently, 63 counties in the state have burn bans in effect, along with six others with local bans.
The declaration restricts campfires and other recreational fires, except when enclosed in a fire ring 23 inches in diameter and 10 inches high or larger; open burning of any kind using wood or other combustible matter, with the exception of grills fueled by charcoal or propane; and burning of debris such as timber, vegetation or building materials.
Burning in barrels requires a mesh top and is only allowed from dawn until dusk.
So far in Putnam County, the majority of field or grass fires have not been the result of open burns, but of problems with the dry conditions and farm equipment. Emergency management director Kim Hyten said he believes citizens are already doing their best to avoid taking risks with fires.
"I fully believe that the people out there have not tried to cause any situations because most of the reports have been agriculture related," Hyten said.
Violation of the ban is considered a Class B misdemeanor, but Hyten said the objective is to make people aware of the situation the drought has caused, not to fine or arrest anyone.
"The goal is not to ticket or fine anyone. It's to make people aware and to be conscious of their actions," Hyten said.
Beck said it will be up to the discretion of fire chiefs if someone would be charged for starting a fire. If, for example, a fire gets out of control that follows the restrictions set forth above, there would be no charge.
"But if somebody set a fire in the woods or a fencerow or is burning leaves, the fire chiefs can cite them," Beck said.