If the state of Maine wanted to create the perfect website for issuing open burn permits, it would be easy, convenient and inexpensive, both to residents and municipalities. It would be a lot like WardensReport.com.

But after years of serving residents and local fire departments well and without incident, WardensReport.com and another site like it, BurningPermit.com, are offline for now, under orders from the Maine Forest Service.

The Legislature should act quickly to allow these proven tools for fire safety back in service.

BurningPermit.com, started a decade ago by a Gorham firefighter, and WardensReport.com, launched in 2013 by two Gardiner firefighters, together serve over 70 Maine cities and towns.

WardensReport.com, which partners with more than 60 municipalities, charges $75 a year to each community, which in turn has the ability to restrict when permits are issued and set limits on the number of permits issued, to account for weather conditions and staffing levels. Through an app, firefighters can easily see where that day’s burns are occurring.

On their end, residents can obtain burn permits for free from the comfort of their own homes.

The state’s site, by contrast, charges $7 a permit.

Sure, if they don’t want to pay, residents can get the same free permit in person from their municipality. But that means an extra trip out, and requires that the town keep someone on hand to issue permits at all times, which can be costly for some communities. For years now, the system has worked well – last week, Pittston Fire Chief Jason Farris said the private online services make his job easier and his community safer, as well as saving the town money.

The Maine Forest Service, however, now says the permits issued through the privately run sites are invalid, reversing an earlier position. The state says for safety considerations, all permits should come directly from state or local authorities.

It’s hard to see how that is the case. Through the private services, city and town fire departments have complete control over who gets burn permits and when they get them, and can easily make adjustments based on local conditions, something the state site does not accomplish as well, users say.

And by making it easy to obtain a free permit, the privately run sites have made it much more likely someone will get one, putting them on the radar of local authorities. Before that, firefighters say, inconvenience often kept people from getting a permit – meaning that open burning would take place but no one with access to a firetruck or hose knew it was going on.

Legislators see this, too, and are working on a fix. Sens. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, and Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, are both working to get a bill passed to clarify that local authorities have the right to issue permits through the privately run sites.

Last week, a forest ranger defended the state’s actions by saying they need a system for issuing burn permits that is “safe and convenient.”

It appears, before the state shut the sites down, that such a system was already in place. Lawmakers should get it going again.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.