Cascade County implements Stage 1 fire restrictions; fireworks calls up in city

The county is implementing Stage 1 fire restrictions effective 12:01 a.m. July 7.

The county issued the decision Tuesday afternoon citing “unseasonably warm dry conditions.”

The restrictions are, according to Cascade County Disaster and Emergency Services:

  • open burning is prohibited;
  • campfires are only allowed in developed recreation site or improved site where developed campfire rings are provided;
  • smoking permitted only within an enclosed vehicle, inside a building or in an area where at least three feet in diameter is cleared of all flammable materials;
  • campers are only allowed to cook using a device that is solely fueled by liquid petroleum or LPG fuels and can be turned on and off;
  • all fireworks are prohibited. All exploding targets are also considered a pyrotechnic product and are prohibited;
  • charcoal briquettes are only allowed on private property in a “backyard” barbecue located in an area that is barren or cleared of all overhead and surrounding flammable materials within three feet.

Burning refuse in barrels is also prohibited, according to DES.

Fireworks complaints up this year

“The County remains under high fire danger conditions due to extended hot temperatures and a general lack of moisture. We’ve had very warm to hot days with hot temperatures holding into the late evening. This warm weather, coupled with the lack of rainfall and low relative humidity, necessitate Stage One Fire Restrictions until further notice,” Brad Call, county DES manager said in a release.

Last week, city fire officials raised concern about the fire danger from fireworks and asked on several occasions about implementing fire restrictions.

Gianforte declares state of emergency for drought; local officials watching fire danger conditions

On June 30, Call told The Electric that “we’re feeling pretty okay” with moisture and that he didn’t anticipate any fire restrictions or banning fireworks.

Great Falls Fire Rescue Chief Jeremy Jones told The Electric that for Saturday and Sunday, they responded to 139 calls and of those, there were 31 grass fires, 11 dumpster fires, two structure fires directly related to fireworks and two EMS calls related to fireworks, to include second degree burns from fireworks.

In 2020, from July 2-5, there were five grass fires and two dumpster fires related to fireworks according to fire officials.

Jones said he staffed an additional engine company for the holiday weekend and “it was nuts.”

During the July 6 City Commission meeting, City Manager Greg Doyon said that while the city fire marshal was driving around the city on July 4, a juvenile threw fireworks into the street in front of his vehicle while being observed by his parents.

Doyon said that “‘if we want to keep celebrating the Fourth…you have to have responsible fun. These types of things don’t bode well for our first responders or your neighbors. Abusing the fireworks and some of the stories that I’ve heard, it’s not the right way to celebrate the holiday.”

The Great Falls Police Department responded to 45 fireworks calls and officers had to use fire extinguishers in some cases, Doyon said.

Call said that he and other local fire officials will review the fire conditions weekly to determine when to lift the restrictions.

Jones said during the July 6 commission meeting that there was already discussion of moving to Stage 2 restrictions if the fire danger conditions continue.

“This is reactive approach to things that have already gone very bad,” Jones said.

He said officials have been hearing of more fires that have occured that weren’t reported to fire departments.

Jones and Fire Marshal Mike McIntosh have proposed that the city adopt the most recent version of the International Fire Code that has provisions for permitting and would allow the city to have greater control over the sale of fireworks within the city. Currently, fireworks vendors only need a safety inspection for their booth as a temporary business, but there is no mechanism for restricting the sale of fireworks within the city limits at this time, unless the City Commission were to change the ordinance and restrict the sale and use of fireworks.

Weather service officials discussed the fire danger during a July 1 call and said the heat and dry conditions of late June were on par with later summer conditions of years that had significant fire seasons, including 2006, 2012 and 2017.

On July 1, Gov. Greg Gianforte declared a statewide emergency due to drought.

Last year, then Great Falls Police Department Chief Dave Bowen said that he and the former fire chief worked years ago to develop the ordinance as it currently exists, which was a compromise to the limit to the usage of fireworks within the city while still allowing them.

Several years ago, Mayor Bob Kelly held a town hall about fireworks that generated heated discussion but no changes to the ordinance that only allows fireworks July 2-4 for certain hours.