ALTOONA, Ala. (WIAT) – The chief of a small Alabama fire department reported an illegal burn conducted by the city to state environmental regulators, resulting in a $5,000 fine for the city, state records show.
According to an order by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), Altoona Fire Chief Tim Crow notified the state agency about the unauthorized open burning of “imported vegetation” on June 30. The open burn was conducted in violation of a burn ban and was too close to an occupied building, the order said.
The city admitted to the burn and said it was aware of the burn ban prior to conducting it, ADEM wrote in its order issuing the $5,000 fine.
After a notice of violation was sent to the city, Altoona made an announcement to its citizens on social media – it would be cracking down on open burns – burns like the one they’d just conducted and for which they’d been fined.
“At the August 16 town council meeting, the mayor and town council agreed to start strict enforcement of several ordinances,” the city posted on its Facebook page. “This is due to a residential complaint that resulted in the town paying a $5,000 fine to ADEM for burning during the no-burn period.”
The state regulatory agency called Altoona’s violation “serious” and said that the city made no efforts to lessen the environmental impact of the burn when it occurred. Altoona, which has a population of under a thousand people, also likely benefitted economically from the illegal burn, ADEM’s order said, because it did not have to make the effort to dispose of the vegetation legally.
After this article’s initial publication, Chief Crow told CBS 42 that he had been unaware of the illegal burn until he received a complaint from a local resident who said the city was trying to hide the fire. Once he knew about the fire, he helped put the fire out in order to comply with the burn ban, he said. In his view, the city was not trying to conceal the burn, he said. The fire was small, Crow added, and was easily extinguished. The mayor, Crow said, told him to report the burn to ADEM, which he did. Once ADEM issued its fine, Crow said, the town’s mayor paid it from his own pocket.
“We’re a small town,” Crow said. “We don’t have much of a tax base.”
Initial attempts to reach Crow had been unsuccessful.