Police jury vote raises burn ban fines

By Paige Nash

Webster Parish Ordinance 976 has been amended to raise the first offense for burning during a burn ban to $500.  

This decision made by the Webster Parish Police Jury was a result of multiple factors which include a more proficient process for the courts, continued burning and carelessness by residents during the drought and a recommendation made by Minden Fire Chief and Director of Homeland Security and Preparedness Brian Williams. 

Williams mentioned that he had a few issues with the fine being lower. He said, “I do not feel like we need to lower the penalty. That’s a problem in my opinion.” 

Spanning over 20 years of experience that Williams has under his belt, issuing fines during a burn ban has never been an issue because they have never had to do it even during the drought in 2011. 

“The only reason fines are being addressed right now is because of the extreme emergency in this state and it is because the State of Louisiana directed the State Fire Marshall to start writing tickets. In the past they have always warned the first time.” 

Almost one month into the statewide drought, the parish is still having issues with residents burning and not following the instructions put out across the state during this time of emergency. 

“We had someone burning in the rain. When you can ignite something during the rain, it is too dry,” said Williams. “Common sense isn’t as common as it used to be, but it is a danger.” 

He also told the jury about a fire that occurred on Dorcheat Road a few days ago that resulted in a structure being burned, a boat and two trailers that were loaded with materials. This fire was admittedly caused by a resident throwing out a cigarette.  

Local fire departments along with the State Fire Marshall have been responding to fires throughout the parish during the burn ban, but the fines for the parish and state vary. 

Webster Parish Sheriff Jason Parker said that his deputies have been busily issuing parish ordinance tickets to try and prevent things like this from happening. Parker said, “People do not realize it just takes one little deal to destroy a lot of property. We are trying to prevent that the best we can.” 

Parker also explained that the $250 fine for a first offense was set at that amount because that is what the state abides by. “It is a civil violation that goes to Baton Rouge, and it is $250, so that is the reason we went with $250.” 

Parish Attorney Patrick Jackson spoke with the parish judge and said that the court was looking for a quicker process when it comes to issuing the fines for the violators. “What they called me about was that they seemed more interested in being able to have a speedy process,” said Jackson. “So, instead of having to go to court, they can go ahead and issue an order that is blanket. If the sheriff writes a ticket, they can just go up there and pay for it. They have predetermined sentences for violations just to make it more efficient.” 

Previously the ordinance read that the first offense would result in a $250 fine, the second offense would be up to $500, and the third offense would receive a fine or jail time. The parish can only charge a maximum of $500.  

District 3 Police Juror Daniel Thomas made a motion that the first offense be raised to $500 with a second by District 5 Juror Mike Griffith. 

The ordinance now reads: 

Any person or persons or company or corporation or any person or persons who are individually representing or acting as an agent for any person or persons or company or corporation who violates this chapter shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and punishable by a fine not to exceed five hundred dollars ($500.00) plus all cost of court and a jail sentence not to exceed six (6) months or both.