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The Gallatin County Commission voted unanimously to pass an emergency ordinance that bans open burns, recreational fires and fireworks in Big Sky and West Yellowstone.

The emergency ordinance is effective immediately, and does not affect lands that are under state, federal or municipality control. The ordinance has a 90-day lifespan, which can be shortened should the county commission rescinds it. The ordinance is not countywide, and only affects lands designated in the Big Sky and West Yellowstone High Fire Hazard Areas.

Breaking the new ordinance will result in a misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $500 and imprisonment of up to 6 months, or both.

Montana law defines open burns as the slash, debris or land-clearing burning of open fires. Recreational fires are defined as fire ignited, set or burned in a nonflammable structure that is less than 48 inches in diameter for which a reasonably prudent and suitable source of extinguishing the fire is available.

According to the ordinance the Big Sky Fire Hazard Area is south of U.S. 191 milepost 61.5, and north of U.S. 191 milepost 32. The West Yellowstone High Fire Hazard area is south of U.S. 191 milepost 32.

Commissioner Joe Skinner said at the vote for the ordinance that public comment from Big Sky and West Yellowstone residents were heavily factored into their decision.

“It’s the prudent thing to do with these high fire hazard areas,” Skinner said.

Madison County followed a similar path, issuing a resolution to ban fireworks usage countywide. Madison County Commissioner Jim Hart said that banning fireworks was an amendment to last week’s resolution for the county to enter into Stage 1 fire restrictions. The newly amended resolution is effective immediately.

A press conference was held shortly after the vote on the Gallatin County emergency ordinance. Representatives from agencies across the county discussed the threat of wildfire and increasingly dry conditions.

The officials called for responsibility and courtesy when it comes to fireworks and recreation during the holiday weekend.

Kevin Larsen, operations and training manager for Gallatin County Emergency Management, described the fire season as an “exceptional fire year.”

Larsen said roughly 40,000 acres have already burned within 100 miles of Bozeman, with four fires requiring incident management teams to come and suppress them. He added that nearly 80% of wildfires are caused by people.

Nearly every fire district in the county, or 15 of the 16, are closed to permitted burning. Prior to the press conference he said that he had spoken with the National Weather Service, which projects another three weeks of dry, high temperature conditions.

“For the foreseeable future, it’s not going to get better,” Larsen said at the press conference.

Greg Megaard, fire chief of the Big Sky Fire Department, said that Gallatin County’s emergency ordinance and the Madison County resolution create consistency for his fire department and for law enforcement on the usage of fireworks.

Big Sky falls under the jurisdiction of the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Dan Springer said that enforcing the fireworks ban in the area is difficult because it’s hard to know to cite in those situations — they typically arrive long after the firework has gone off.

“With the personal freedoms of independence comes personal responsibility,” Springer said.

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Alex Miller is the county and state government reporter and can be reached at amiller@dailychronicle.com or by phone at 406-582-2648.

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