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Wildfire starters may end up with harsh penalties

The sheriff department’s citations are a steep penalty forburning trash in a barrel, but if someone’s fire spreads out anddamages adjacent property, the charges under the burn ban canbecome phenomenally stiff.

Lincoln County Service Forester Howard Stogner said those who startdestructive fires while the burn ban is in effect could be heldliable for the damages in court, and Mississippi law providesdoubly for those who are affected.

“If you let a fire get away and it burns down someone’s timber,you’ll be assessed double its market value as it goes across thescale,” he said. “This is just compensating damages, not countingwhat the judge can slap on top.”

Aside from paying double the value of destroyed timber, Stognersaid those who start wildfires under the burn ban can also becharged $250 an acre to replant the lost trees and $55 per stem ifthe wood is of a certain height.

If the wildfire were to consume someone’s physical property – likea house or shed – the person responsible will likely face chargesof arson, Stogner said. And if by chance someone is killed in afire started while the burn ban is in effect, the charge could beinvoluntary manslaughter.

“If you let your fire get away and it burns somebody’s structure, Ican guarantee you you’re up a creek for a long, long time,” Stognersaid. “There are people out there who think it’s not a big deal tolet your fire get out, but one fire can ruin you.”

Fires started under the burn ban that don’t spread out and causedamage to neighboring property can still be costly blazes.

Stogner said those responsible for wildfires will also face theforestry commission’s suppression charges – reimbursement penaltiesnormally levied only if a fire spreads to neighbors’ property butassessed regardless while the burn ban is in effect.

The commission’s suppression charges range from $45 to $65 per hourjust to cover the cost of equipment. Suppression charges alsoinclude the cost in manpower, and if the agency has to dispatch itsaircraft to fly over the blaze and guide firefighters, that chargecan be up to $200 per hour.

With citations, suppression charges and damages factored in, peopleresponsible for fires during the burn ban could find themselvespaying out thousands of dollars.

“It can add up right quick-like,” Stogner said. “Just don’t do it -no open burning.”