Streamlined Meridian Township burn policies work to keep blazes under control

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By Erica Marra
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter

The summer before heading off to college is typically considered to be the perfect time for recent high school graduates to create long-lasting memories with their
friends. While 2012 Okemos High School graduate Colin Jackson said that he expected to create some moments he would never forget before leaving his hometown, he never expected them to be so incendiary.

Photo by Erica Marra

The Meridian Township Fire Department is in charge of establishing and enforcing burn policies throughout the community. Photo by Erica Marra

“The summer I graduated, there was a rumor going around that a girl I knew accidentally set fire to a field called ‘The Shire’ that we used to have bonfires at,” Jackson said. “Apparently she didn’t put a fire out all the way and ended up burning down a good chunk of [the field].”

Jackson said his curiosity led him to revisit the alleged burn site to see if the rumors were true.

“I went back this year and all of the grass is like, seriously lower and you can still see where stuff is charred, so I guess it actually happened,” Jackson said. “So yeah, I kind of understand why Meridian has a burn policy.”

According to Meridian Township Fire Inspector Tavis Millerov, it is just these types of incidents that the Meridian Township Fire Department is working to eliminate through amendments to their burn permits and policies. Millerov said that the fire department’s recent efforts to streamline burn permit registration process will make the entire process easier for all parties involved.

“I took over my position as fire inspector two years ago, and one of the goals of getting into this position was to try and modernize and bring everything up to date,” Millerov said. “So we started an online registration for the barbecue pits permits to try to make things simpler for both us and the township residents.”

In addition, Millerov said that the changing the burn permit renewal policy from once every three years to once every year is helping to keep fires within the community under better control.

“We’re also renewing [the permits] now every year, because we’ve seen in the three-year gap we’ve got people moving in and not following the rules, then they fall through the cracks,” Millerov said.

According to the Firewise Communities Program, statistics collected by the National Interagency Fire Center showed that between 87-96 percent of brush, grass and forest fires are caused by people. Millerov said that Meridian Township enforces two types of permits to ensure that these types of statistics are kept at low percentages.

“We have two types of permits. There’s a barbecue pit permit which is for having campfires in your backyard,” Millerov said. “We also do something called rural residential permits. Those permits are for doing things like burning brush off of your property and doing spring cleanup stuff, where you’re actually burning for disposal, so to speak.”

Millerov said that out of the 300-400 burn permits registered in Meridian Township, the fire department commonly receives an average of only 25 complaints regarding unruly fires per year. Numbers aside, James Schaefer, associate professor of fire science at Lake Superior State University, said that burn policies are an effective way to keep communities safe.

“Most cities do have burn policies, and for several reasons. One reason is for safety, because usually in cities the houses are closer together there’s a greater chance of exposure,” Schaefer said. “The second reason is for annoyance complaints. A lot of times people will not burn the proper materials and that will produce a lot of smoke. If you’re looking at those annoyances, it can also get into health issues if you have a neighbor that is on oxygen or has breathing issues.”

Formalities aside, Millerov said that above all, it is important for Meridian Township residents to remain educated and safe when dealing with flames.

“The biggest takeaway is just be aware of how dangerous burning can be and the guidelines in place,” Millerov said. “If you follow the rules set in place, you’re going to have a pleasurable experience and you’re going to be able to continue.”