New Castle News

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April 11, 2013

Our Opinion: Weather conditions should deter those wanting to burn

NEW CASTLE — Perhaps the most amazing fact regarding Sunday’s massive brush fire in Shenango Township was the lack of damage.

Although approximately 500 acres of land burned in the blaze, no buildings were destroyed or equipment lost.

Undoubtedly, this was the result of efforts by the scores of volunteer firefighters who responded to the call. And maybe there was a little luck as well. With the high, whipping winds Lawrence County experienced Sunday, firefighters had limited ability to control the spread of the flames.

We are appreciative of the firefighters who essentially risked their safety in battling this blaze. And we’re sure residents of the impacted area are as well. After all, they had the most to lose.

But we would be remiss if we overlooked a key aspect of this incident. And by that, we mean it never should have happened.

Sunday was a day no one should have been burning. It’s as simple as that. Even if a fire were being monitored, the winds easily could take it away.

That’s especially true because conditions on the ground were dry. And this time of year, there’s lots of dead vegetation that’s like tinder. A few sparks can start a spreading fire.

There have been plenty of brush fires in recent days, as local fire departments have contended with a series of calls. These could have been caused by careless burning or from other some other unusual occurrence.

The investigation into the cause of Sunday’s big brush fire in Shenango Township is ongoing, and being conducted by the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry. While the results are not yet known, it’s possible that the person responsible for the fire will pay dearly for it.

That’s because state law allows for the recovery of the cost of fighting such a blaze — even if it was an accident. Officials have yet to release a specific price tag associated with putting out this fire, but indications are it could be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

It would be unfortunate for someone required to cover that expense, but why should anyone else? Volunteer fire departments around here aren’t exactly rolling in cash. And we presume the people who turned out to fight this fire had better things to do with their time on a Sunday. At the end of the day, someone has to pay the bills.

Unfortunately, charging hefty fees — and making sure the public is aware of them — may prove to be the best deterrent for avoiding these fires in the future. If people can’t employ common sense where fires are concerned, maybe hitting them in the pocketbook will drive the point home.

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