Brush Fires Can Be Costly for Homeowners

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A 550-acre brush fire near Snake Run Road in Lawrence County on Sunday started in a burn barrel on someone’s property.

With the help of as many as 27 local fire departments and dozens of firefighters, the fire was about 90 percent contained in a matter of hours. No homes were evacuated, but there were fire trucks stationed at each of the nearly 20 properties.

The Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry also brought in two planes to drop hundreds of gallons of water on the rapidly spreading blaze.

“The idea is to keep the fire small, use the planes quickly. We used the planes here largely because of all the homes that were nearby and threatened by the fire,” said forester John Brundege.

The homeowner who was burning will be financially responsible for all of the resources used. The Bureau of Forestry said the investigation is just starting and it was too early to tell how much the homeowner could owe.

But once that homeowner is billed, they could be somewhat protected by their insurance policy.

“The liability is part of your homeowner’s package and it’s the most important part, but it’s the part nobody thinks about. You’re thinking about what can you do inadvertently, accidentally, to hurt someone else: bodily or destroy their property,” said Allstate Insurance owner Virginia Ottenberg.

Not knowing the specifics in this case, Ottenberg said each insurance carrier may have its own determination on what liabilities will be covered.

“More than likely it is a covered loss, but it is subject to the examination of claims adjustors as to exactly what happened,” she said.

The Beaver Township Fire Department has its own brush truck made specifically for putting out grass fires.

Chief Russ Osborne advises people to wait if they want to burn, and when they do so, only do it in an open area and in a 3-by-3 space.

“Other than basement fires, people don’t realize brush fires are the most dangerous fires that we fight. They’re very, very unpredictable,” Osborne said.

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