An emergency bill that would allow fire chiefs and fire wardens to use private websites or web-based services to issue burn permits passed into law Tuesday without the signature of Gov. Paul LePage and Wednesday, a service called Warden’s Report was back online.

Warden’s Report is one of two online services identified by Maine Forest Service officials in early June, when they sent letters to more than 70 municipalities urging them not to use it or another site called Burning Permits.

Following a review of state law by the Office of the Maine Attorney General, Forest Service officials concluded that while the authority exists to delegate issuing paper permits to fire chiefs and wardens, no such authority exists for using privately operated websites or software to issue permits. As a result, they said, the only legitimate vehicle for obtaining online permits was through the Maine Forest Service’s site, where permits cost $7 through the Maine Burn Permit System.

The move prompted emergency legislation to be drafted and considered by lawmakers to allow cities and towns to use the private services as long as they comply with all statutory requirements.

On Wednesday, John Bott, communications director for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said department officials “are reviewing the legislation that passed to determine how best to support implementation of the law.”

Gary Hickey, who with another West Gardiner firefighter launched, an online permitting system, in 2013, said nearly 50 requests for burn permits through his website had come in Wednesday.


Initially, only about a half-dozen communities had signed up for Warden’s Report. But the service has been gaining popularity, and before he blocked access to the website in June, about 60 communities were using it.

Matthew Scott, who said Wednesday that Burning Permits is open for business, developed his web-based system a decade ago.

The Forest Service has acknowledged that although it was aware of both of them, it allowed them to be developed in error.

“If we hadn’t had as many towns, there would not have been the same outcome,” Hickey said. “The support is what kept us alive.”

Hickey estimates that Warden’s Report is accessible to as many as 300,000 state residents.

The site was developed as a way for cities and towns to save money. In West Gardiner, he said, the town paid out $700 a year each to three fire wardens to issue permits to residents so they legally could burn brush, wood debris, grass or agricultural fields.


Now, instead of $2,100, West Gardiner pays only $75 a year for access to Warden’s Report. There is no cost to the resident seeking the permit.

The Forest Service’s concern about these third-party systems is rooted in safety considerations.

Permits issued by the Forest Service allow controlled burns to take place only after 5 p.m. Generally, the wind is calmer at that time of day and more firefighters are available — particularly in towns that rely on volunteer services — in the evenings.

The Forest Service has cited a couple of instances this year when fires escaped, and those fires were permitted through third-party sites.

Local fire chiefs, however, have the ability to permit controlled burns at other times, depending on fire conditions and availability of staff.

Fire chiefs who have used Warden’s Report say it gives them a great deal of control, including the ability to shut off the issuance of permits on days when fire danger is high.


At the end of June, as the emergency legislation was headed to the governor’s office for consideration, the Maine Forest Service issued an advisory cautioning residents about the dangers of using systems other than the Forest Service’s.

Hickey said he has tried to contact the Forest Service to see whether they can work together on online permitting. He said he has not heard back yet.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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