October 28, 2016 9:24:37 AM
Mississippi State University announced Wednesday it will strictly enforce active Oktibbeha County burn bans on campus during tailgating for the homecoming football game against Samford.
Oktibbeha County is included in the 52-county partial state burn ban issued by Gov. Phil Bryant and the Mississippi Forestry Commission. Additionally, a county-level ban the board of supervisors issued is in effect until Nov. 2. Dry weather conditions have compelled a total of 67 counties to issue burn bans currently active in the state.
MSU Chief Communications Officer Sid Salter said the university is heeding direction by state and local fire marshals with its enforcement efforts. He said MSU police will ensure prohibited cooking and heating methods that produce coals and embers, such as charcoal grills and fire pits, will remain unlit during game day activities.
"[Fans] are aware there's a drought, and they're aware of the ban. They will be voluntarily cooperative. Obviously, our MSU [police] will endeavor to make sure that those who may not be aware of the ban are advised of that, and they'll ask them to comply," Salter said. "We're working hard for this game in particular to avoid open flame or situations where there are coals or embers that could be dumped out."
Salter said the ban on grilling is not without exception, however. Gas grills will be permitted due to the manageable and contained nature of their flames.
Starkville Fire Marshal Stein McMullen agrees heightened safety measures are appropriate on campus Saturday.
"The issue we have with charcoal grills is the way that people dispose of charcoal," McMullen said. "They either dump it in flower beds, dump it in dumpsters or stuff like that, and we always end up having a [few] fires every year related to them.
"With football and baseball combined, it probably happens four, five or six times a year," he added.
McMullen said due to drought conditions, a fire resulting from improperly disposed embers could cause significant damage or injury because dry conditions could help it spread more quickly. He said though an SFD fire truck will be on-site as always in case of such an emergency, game day congestion affects emergency response times.
"If a fire were to start, by the time we could actually get there with a truck, there's no telling how big it would be or how much it had spread," McMullen said.
Delta State, Ole Miss and Jackson State, the other Mississippi public universities under burn bans with home games Saturday, have not similarly been advised by fire officials to enforce the bans on game day, according to representatives from the universities.
"There's two things that makes the burn ban particularly relevant [to Mississippi State] - the fact that we still do allow open flame cooking and that we have such a large campus," Salter said. "There's so many places that people tailgate over a widespread area. Plus, because of the size of the campus there are more expanses of grass that if we had a fire to get away from us on campus, it would be pretty significant."
To inform the public, the university published a release announcing the enforcement effort on its website, and further promoted the release on its Facebook and Twitter pages.
Knowingly and willfully violating the ban is a misdemeanor and carries a fine of up to $500.
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