HELENA — The City of Helena has implemented emergency fire restrictions – limiting recreational burning within city limits, including in backyard fire pits.
On Thursday, the city commission adopted an emergency ordinance establishing tighter fire restrictions for 90 days. The biggest change from existing rules was a prohibition on open recreational fires, without specific permission from the city.
“You can still have barbecue pits and cooking fires that are in pellet stoves, smokers or barbecue grills, but not cooking fires with an open flame, like a campfire,” said Helena Fire Department Assistant Chief Mike Chambers.
Chambers said it’s extremely unusual for the city to take this type of action, and that it has been years since it happened last. However, with Montana’s fire situation as serious as it is, leaders felt the best option was to be consistent with other agencies that have put in tighter restrictions.
“We want the citizens of the city of Helena and our communities to be happy and be able to live the lives they need to live, but it’s not a normal situation,” he said.
The city typically has stricter fire rules than Lewis and Clark County does, but after the county adopted Stage 2 fire restrictions last week, its rules were tighter than Helena’s. Chambers said it’s important to have consistent policies, especially where the city and county meet.
“Doing everything we can to protect the community and the citizens is just the right thing to do right now,” he said.
The fire department doesn’t plan to patrol for violations, but they will respond to complaints.
“This is going to be a go-no go situation,” Chambers said. “If we see fire, like we normally do, you will put it out or we will put it out. It’s a zero tolerance within the city, and we want to make sure that we’re holding everybody accountable and being as compliant as possible.”
Chambers said, in the future, the department is looking at ways to update the code, to give them more flexibility when restrictions like this need to be put in.
The 90-day ordinance runs through the beginning of November. Leaders say they’ll reevaluate later in the year if that date needs to change.