Gallatin County enacted a county wide emergency ordinance establishing a burn ban and fire restrictions due to continued drought conditions, extremely dry fuel levels and a lack of firefighting resources.
The ordinance went into immediate effect Tuesday, and will last 90 days, or until the Gallatin County Commission rescinds it. This emergency ordinance supersedes the previous ordinance banning fireworks in the Big Sky and West Yellowstone High Fire Hazard areas.
The emergency ordinance can also be extended.
“If we’re 90 days out and still need it, that will be the least of our problems,” Skinner said.
Open burns, recreational fires, fireworks, smoking outdoors within three feet of flammable material and driving off-road or off trails — unless for agricultural purposes — are all banned under the new ordinance.
Agricultural activities that require a vehicle to be off-road — like maintaining livestock, water facilities and utilities — are still allowed under the ordinance.
“Agriculture has to continue, people have to check their cows and change sprinklers,” County Commissioner Joe Skinner said. “There’s not going to be anyone more safe than farmers right now.”
The ordinance also recommends that people use caution when shooting outdoors and to stick to developed shooting ranges clear of vegetation.
County Commissioner Zach Brown said that the Emergency Release Component, or how readily vegetation will burn, was the most concrete factor the commission looked at when enacting the emergency ordinance.
“This level of that metric has never been recorded in July, and is on track to exceed anything that has ever been measured in Gallatin County,” Brown said.
The emergency ordinance comes with enforcement authority — violation of the rules is considered a misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $500, a maximum jail time of 6 months, or both. Violations are enforceable by the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Department.
The countywide burn ban comes as Custer Gallatin National Forest announced additional fire restrictions. All campfires — including fire in designated areas and metal fire rings — are banned forestwide effective Wednesday. The beefed up restrictions also prohibit target shooting outside of designated shooting ranges.
Gallatin County is split into three High Fire Hazard Areas — the Big Sky, West Yellowstone and Gallatin Valley High Fire Hazard Areas. The emergency ordinance only has jurisdiction on county land in these areas. Municipalities, like Bozeman, have their own say on fire restrictions.
Melody Milleur, spokesperson for the city of Bozeman, said that the city was still working out the details, but could fall in line with the countywide ban. She added that the when and how of those details are still being decided, but a decision from the city could come within a few days.
Manhattan Mayor Glen Clements said that with Manhattan being part of the county, the town would follow the ban. Three Forks Fire Chief Keith Aune said that Three Forks would follow the ban as well.
“All fire chiefs in Gallatin County are pretty much in agreeance with it,” Aune said.
Officials in Belgrade could not be reached for comment.