Fire worries spark Clark fairgrounds change

Campsites too close together and too close to barns, Springfield Twp. chief says.

Clark County commissioners support a $121,000 plan to address safety concerns about the potential for rapidly spreading fire at Clark County Fairgrounds campsites near the livestock barns.

The project will create an estimated 90 new campsites to benefit the nearly year-round use of the fairgrounds. However, it will require moving some campers who for years have used the sites nearest the livestock barns during the county fair.

Fair officials said Springfield Township Fire Department Chief John Roeder “highly recommended” the fairgrounds allow at least 18 feet between the campers and the barns. Campers must also be parked no less than two feet apart to allow firefighters space to move through the campsites in case of an emergency.

Jay Flax, president of the Clark County Fair Board, said some campers are parking so close together, they actually touch each other.

“If we have a fire, we’re going to have a real serious situation,” Flax said.

Allan Hess, executive director of the Clark County Fair, agreed.

“It’s something we’ve needed to address, and I think it’s a good thing that it’s come to a head,” Hess said. “We’re going to go ahead and take care of it. I think it’s important for the safety of everybody back there.”

The campers have parked much closer to the barns than 18 feet.

“We decided we had to do something before something serious happens out there,” Roeder said.

Roeder said the proximity of the RVs could harm not just those on fire but several in the vicinity of the fire.

“You’re going to jeopardize three or four of those before we even get there,” Roeder said.

The plan includes about 50 new campsites between the outdoor horse arena and Laybourne Road. Officials are trying to determine where the other sites will be.

Commissioners and fair officials discussed the issue this week. The fairgrounds are owned by the county, meaning the Board of County Commissioners would be liable for any damages caused by a fire.

“It’s something we have to maintain,” said Clark County Administrator Nathan Kennedy. “Their liability is our liability. If they get sued, we get sued because we’re the property owners. We have to keep that in mind.”

Hess said the campsites were built in the 1960s and 1970s when campers were much smaller than they are today.

“It’s been a concern of the fire chief’s for five to six years,” Hess said. “It’s gotten to the point where we need to make some changes from a safety standpoint.”

The fairgrounds have approximately 500 campsites overall, including those nearest the barns.

“They’re just too close,” Hess said.

The upgrades would increase the total number of campsites to approximately 540. Hess said that anybody who has to move will have a spot next year.

“We’ve got some folks with RVs that don’t fit their spots now because of their length,” Hess said. “The new spots would allow for those. It’s going to open up some spots, and we’ll have more spots available for those who want to be in the lottery.”

Electrical upgrades will fix deteriorating underground power lines in the campsite area, as well as likely increase power from 30-amp to 50-amp service.

The site holders will receive letters on the issue in the coming weeks after plans are finalized.

The deadline to purchase campsites is Nov. 4 for the 2014 Clark County Fair, according to its website, but that won’t include the new sites.

The annual campsite lottery, typically held in December, will be postponed until plans are finalized, Hess said.

Last year, the Clark County Combined Health District asked the fairgrounds to seek a permanent license to allow RVs to park at the Champions Center. The fairgrounds are exempt from the rules during fair week, but will need a license to allow for RV parking during the events held approximately 40 weeks per year.

The license is approved through the CCCHD, and the additional sites would provide the Champions Center with 100 permanent campsites needed for the application.

“They should get a temporary or a permanent license if they’re going to collect money for them,” said Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson. “Either option is available.”

The rules for campsites are set by the Ohio Department of Health through the Ohio Administrative Code, Patterson said.

“With the amount of space they have out there, it shouldn’t be that difficult to meet the requirements,” Patterson said.

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