Ravalli County commissioners voted to start negotiations with a private company that provides a burning permit service online.

It's an effort to relieve 911 of a soaring number of nonemergency calls, so dispatchers can dedicate more time to life-threatening emergencies.

Instead of calling 911 during open burning season, people could access the service for permits.

Montana Interactive has a site where fire departments could monitor burns in progress. 911 would take fewer nonemergency burn notification calls. But dispatchers would still know if there was an emergency.

"We'll have the opportunity to gain that information instantly," said Lt. Zae Hudson from the Ravalli County Sheriff's Department. "We'll have notification information where we can contact the people that have a burning permit to see if their fire is out of control."

Last year 911 in Ravalli County answered close to 15,000 burn notification calls.

The year before, the system had 13,000 such calls, and in the past three months, the number is already at 8,000.

"This service will not eliminate all of those," said Montana Interactive's Becki Kolenberg. "But it will eliminate the majority of those phone calls to allow emergency personnel to focus on what they should be -- emergencies."

People who want to burn could see an annual one-time fee of $5 to $15 for the service.

But commissioner J.R. Iman said it's possible the county could absorb the costs by saving money on the 911 system.