Start a fire and you'll pay, Utah's governor warns

Published: Monday, June 25 2012 7:00 p.m. MDT

Governor Gary Herbert discusses extreme fire conditions and prevention measures Monday, June 25, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Herbert warned Utahns that if they start a fire, they are going to pay for it.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert warned Utahns that if they start a fire, they are going to pay for it.

But the governor called the possibility of a special legislative session to amend gun laws to prevent such fires premature.

"There is a liability factor out there," Herbert said. "If you are negligent, if you are reckless, if you are intentional, the responsibility falls upon you if you create a fire that goes out and causes damages."

Utah Code 65A-3-4 states that a person who negligently causes a wildland fire, whether by accident or on purpose, is liable for the cost of suppressing it. The law also states that if someone loses their home because of a fire caused by negligence, they can pursue legal remedies for the damage.

"We've used the term 'common sense' so much it's almost become a cliche," Herbert said. "People in fact do need to use a little common sense when they get outdoors and make sure they are not inadvertently starting fires."

Herbert said he's surprised at the number of phone calls his office has received from people saying fireworks should be banned. He reminded people that on June 15, the state forester and state agencies banned all fireworks outside of incorporated cities and all fires outside of improved campgrounds with designated fire pits.

“The only ones that can set off fireworks this year are if you live in an incorporated city or town," State Fire Marshal Brent Halladay said regarding the fireworks ban. "Anyone living out in the county can’t set fireworks off. I don’t think most people know that."

Utah currently has five wildfires burning, including the Wood Hollow Fire in Sanpete County that has destroyed dozens of homes and other structures. The Church Camp Fire south of Duchesne started Sunday has burned an estimated 1,000 acres and has also burned several structures.

Herbert on Monday told the story of David and Janice Taylor, the Fairview city manager who lost his home in the Wood Hollow Fire, to emphasize the losses such fires cause.

"They've literally lost everything," Herbert said. "When we start talking about fires, it's not just about scrub oak and cheat grass ... it's about people and how it impacts their lives in a very negative way."

While the governor reminded Utahans to practice fire safety by being prepared with shovels and other fire equipment, he said he is not prepared to call a special legislative session to amend gun laws to allow state agencies to restrict firearm use during fire season.

"It's premature to decide whether we'll have a special session," Herbert said. "Clearly this is bringing a reflection upon the current laws — do we have unintended consequences, do we have the flexibility we need to have, particularly the local government level for sheriffs to open or close different areas, for example, for target shooting, target practices, those kinds of things."

Herbert said he has asked the Utah Association of Counties and the Utah League of Cities and Towns to bring recommendations regarding gun laws as they see fit.

"Then we'll make a determination whether it needs to be addressed in a special session or if it needs to be addressed at all in a regular session," Herbert said. "But that's up for review and we have not made a determination."

Current Utah firearms law says that unless specifically authorized by the Legislature by statute, local authorities nor state entities can enact or enforce any ordinance, regulation, rule or policy in regards to firearms that inhibits or restricts the possession or use of firearms in any way.

Twitter: @FinleyJY

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