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OPINION | EDITORIAL: Fire-starters ought to be accountable

by The Pine Bluff Commercial | October 30, 2022 at 2:12 a.m.

For those of you who have spent time in a classroom, you can relate. Or really, anyone who has dealt with more than a handful of people at one time knows the feeling. From experience, you know that at least one or two in the crowd -- any crowd -- will not listen or ignore what is being said and, therefore, will not follow directions.

Jefferson County, like a lot of other counties, has had a burn ban in place for weeks. Conditions are, as some officials have observed, the worst they have seen in decades.

Just living on the earth for a few years is enough for most people to take extra care about now. It's the end of the growing season, vegetation is dying, it hasn't rained much in weeks. From one year to the next, copy, paste. It goes without saying, well, one would think it would go without saying, that conditions are ripe for a wildfire and great caution should be taken.

Except for the one or two in the crowd who think they know better or that burn bans are for others or that today is a good day to burn those shingles or that old carpet or what have you even though it's been warm and windy and gusts are 30 mph.

As one fire official put it, firefighters had one of the illegal fires contained, but a gust of wind caught it just wrong, and it kicked up and spread into some woods and whoosh, it was gone, out of control, and was soon devouring trees and sending flames 50 feet into the sky.

Fire officials came running from all over. The Jefferson County Road Department, other counties, numerous fire departments, the Forestry Division of the state Agriculture Department, which brought its fire-suppression planes -- all of those entities came together and fought fires for multiple days and many, many hours.

The end result was that, even though more than 800 acres burned, no one was injured and no structures were lost. That, in and of itself, is a victory. Credit goes to the men and women who worked to exhaustion to protect the people living in those areas. We can't imagine the dollar sign that would be attached to all that equipment use and effort.

And there is a loss, of course. Those hundreds of acres destroyed belonged to someone, and now the trees and anything else in the path of the fire are gone for years, if not decades. The dollar sign for that is also unknown, at least at this point, but you know it would have numerous zeros attached.

In some ways, writing this feels like reminding people not to smoke when they're working around gasoline or not to put peas up their nose. But even if they were simply being stupid, as another public official suggested, we believe they should be held accountable. It's not enough to shake one's head over this. The people responsible should be fined and otherwise held accountable for their actions.

Making an example out of these irresponsible folks might -- just might -- get the attention of the next person who walks outside on a burn ban day when the wind knocks your hat off and thinks, yes, it's a good day to burn that trash.

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