Enacting Burn Bans

As the summer of 2022 has proven to be one of the driest in recent history, we would like to thank all fire service agencies, firefighters, and first responders in Missouri for their hard work and dedication to combatting recent wildfires that have plagued our state. During times like these, we here at the Division of Fire Safety are committed to sharing information and to educate and remind our partners in the fire service of what we all need to do to keep our communities and citizens safe. By minimizing the threat of death, injury, and property loss. Which includes the dangers that wildfires present. There are several tools we have to assist in mitigating the threat of wildfires, one of which is the issuance of burn bans.

The Division of Fire Safety has fielded several calls and emails over the last couple of months regarding the issuance of burn bans. On July 28, 2022, the Division sent a message to all Missouri fire service agencies to remind them of the processes for enacting burn ban orders and ordinances. As well as asking they share this information with their local municipal and county governmental bodies to ensure these burn bans are being issued appropriately, based on the type and authority of each fire service agency. We wanted to take this opportunity, through the FFAM subscribers and readers, to extend the reach of this message to ensure that everyone understands the role they play in these processes.

For municipalities and tax-based fire protection districts, the authority exists in statute, and the process is fairly simple. A municipality may consider enacting a burn ban under applicable laws, including their local charters and chapters 71 through 100, RSMo. A fire protection district, as defined in section 321.010, RSMo, may consider enacting a burn ban under the powers of the board, pursuant to RSMo 321.220(12). Burn bans under these authorities would be applicable within the city limits, or a fire protection district’s boundaries, respectively.

For a volunteer fire protection association or a county commission the process is simple. However, there are a couple of additional steps that need to be taken. First, a volunteer fire protection association has no statutory authority to issue ordinances or orders. Should they desire or require a burn ban, they need to work with their county commission to do this with and for them. That being said, there is nothing to prohibit a volunteer fire protection association, or any other type of fire service agency, from utilizing media campaigns. Social media, radio, television, signage, etc., or any other form of communication reaching the public will advise them of the dangers of wildfires encourage people to be an active participant in fire prevention.

For a county commission, statutory authority for issuing a burn ban can be found in Section 49.266, RSMo. The full content of can be found at www.revisor.mo.gov. This section states upon a determination by the State Fire Marshal that a burn ban order is appropriate because of an actual or impending occurrence of natural disaster of major proportions that jeopardizes the safety and welfare of the inhabitants, and the U.S. Drought Monitor has designated the county as an area of severe, extreme, or exceptional drought, the county commission may adopt an order or ordinance issuing a burn ban.

What the Division has found over the summer is county commissions have enacted burn bans despite not getting a determination by the State Fire Marshal that it was appropriate, and/or enacted burn bans when not supported by the U.S. Drought Monitor, both of which are required prior to enacting, adopting, or issuing a ban. We want to present this fact as a reminder to everyone that our office is required to be contacted prior to a burn ban being issued by a county commission.

We also receive several inquiries from the citizens in every part of the State regarding burn bans where they live. There are occasions that we are aware of burn bans. However, most of the time we are not. We always ask they call their local fire service agency with these inquiries to ensure they get up-to-date information directly from the source. This said, when the Division is advised and/or determines burn bans are appropriate, we update our website for the public to find some of this information. We do ask any county commission that enacts a burn ban through our office to also advise us of when it is rescinded. If we are not made aware of this, we may be providing outdated and incorrect information. We also ask that fire officials keep track of the burn bans in place to ensure they are still appropriate. As drought conditions improve and the U.S. Drought Monitor is at a level that would no longer support enacting a burn ban, it may be time to rescind it.

In all cases, municipality, fire protection district, or county commission, the Division of Fire Safety recommends that you work closely with appropriate prosecuting attorneys so that any ban is enforced and supported. If you have questions regarding your ability to enact a burn ban or the procedure to do so, we encourage you to contact your local counsel, such as your city attorney or prosecuting attorney.

If you should find yourself in the position that a burn ban is being considered by your agency and you have questions about this process, need additional guidance, or a determination of whether a burn ban would be appropriate, please contact the Division of Fire Safety at firesafe@dfs.dps.mo.gov or  (573) 751-2930. Thank you for all you do and please be safe.