People looking to burn brush or other materials on their property need to get a permit either through the state for a fee or through a local official.

For communities with volunteer fire departments, that usually means tracking down the fire chief or a designated fire warden to write up a permit. That’s why West Gardiner firefighter Gary Hickey set up his own online permitting system last year.

“It was just hard for residents to catch up with people to actually get a handwritten permit,” he said.

Hickey said he and Chris McLaughlin, another firefighter and former chief of the department, decided to start the online fire permit system to save their fellow residents from having to pay the $7 fee through the state site.

Hickey has signed up six other towns for the service: Farmingdale, Litchfield, Randolph, Richmond, Topsham and St. George.

The website, called “Warden’s Report,” allows residents in those towns to submit the details for the planned burn and print out a permit for no charge. The site can be found at www.wardensreport.com.

Hickey said he’s been giving towns six-month free trials. Towns are charged $100 for every 1,000 residents, up to $400 for municipalities with more than 4,000 people.

Town officials, county dispatchers and officials at the Maine Forest Service can be notified of the issuance of permits by email or text message, Hickey said.

Hickey said the service also saved West Gardiner $2,100 because the town no longer has to pay for fire wardens to write permits.

He estimated that 98 percent of fire permits in West Gardiner are now done through the site.

“It makes it convenient, and it gives the right people access to who has permits,” Hickey said.

A similar online fire permitting system in addition to the one provided by the state was started by the fire department in Gorham in 2006 and has signed up 15 other towns for the service.

Matthew Scott, the Gorham firefighter who runs the online permitting system, said the department wanted to set it up to better manage the database of permits granted each year.

Most of the $7 fee charged by the state website goes into the state’s General Fund, but a law passed this spring will begin giving $2 to the municipality in which the permit was issued.

The law also expands the service to cover the entire state, instead of just the lower half.

The state system allows municipalities to set additional restrictions on permits, said Kent Nelson, a fire prevention specialist with the Maine Forest Service.

Nelson said towns can also allow permits to be issued, even if the state has ruled the fire danger too high, and they can stop the system from allowing permits even on days the state allows them to be issued.

The fire permits issued are primarily for burning debris, Nelson said.

Outdoor fireplaces for recreational uses such as cooking food are allowed by the state, but a municipality may have its own ordinances regulating them, Nelson said.

He said whoever is issued the permit is ultimately responsible for the safety of the fire.

Nelson said people should use common sense when deciding how much to burn. Tall brush piles should be used to feed a smaller fire, instead of burned all at once, he said.

He also said some people have the misconception that they need to put only enough water on the fire to put out the flames.

“We always ask people to put water on the fire several times and stir the coals and make sure it’s totally out,” he said.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663
[email protected]

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