As Fires Rage, No Burn Ban In Effect For Oklahoma

Thursday, February 18th 2016, 5:10 pm
By: Grant Hermes

Wednesday was a red flag day for grass fires which burned across the state. But not a single county issued a burn ban despite higher than normal temperatures, high winds and dry conditions because of strict standards set by state law.

“From the I-35 corridor when we position our task forces there we're able to get almost anywhere in the state in about an hour or two,” Oklahoma State Forester George Geissler said. He added they have been preparing for days after battling large amounts of wildfires in the state’s eastern counties.

Burn bans can be issued two ways, either from the Governor’s office or from the heads of each county. The governor takes her cues from national agencies. Counties have to follow a state law that says there needs to be more wildfires than normal, at least 20 percent have to be man-made and there has to be an extreme drought.

“Today is proof of that the drought criteria [sic] is not that relevant,” David Barnes said.

Barnes is the Director of Oklahoma County Emergency Management. He said the state needs to update its law. He says we don't qualify for the drought standard because the soil is too wet after a rainy fall and recent winter ice storm that left the soil saturated.

“Those factors that are in state law, in my opinion, need to be reviewed again and the common sense factor needs to be reapplied and the fire chiefs need to be able to play a significant role in their local jurisdictions on whether or not a burn ban needs to be implemented,” Barnes said.

“To me I over think it sometimes. It's the dead of winter, there's a lot of fuel and there's a lot of wind,” News9 Chief Meteorologist David Payne said.

Payne said he understands the criteria, but thinks burn bans should also be shorter. According to statute burn bans must be in place for 30 days. Payne suggested having shorter bans to allow for people that live in rural areas burn trash or farm waste on days where fire danger may be low, but still under a burn ban.