Cotton Co. emergency management wanting to simplify burn ban process

Cotton Co. emergency management wanting to simplify burn ban process

OKLAHOMA (KSWO) - The Cotton County emergency management director is looking to simplifying the process of issuing a burn ban for his county, and also for the entire state of Oklahoma. The state has lost several thousand acres of land to grass fires over the past few weeks, but no burn ban has been issued. State law requires certain criteria, like extreme drought, to be met before it can be issued by the Governor or the Board of County Commissioners.

Cotton County Emergency Management Director Shawn Strange thinks when the National Weather Service issues a red flag warning, which is a high fire warning, 24 hours in advance that a burn ban should also be issued, and last as long as the red flag warning is in effect. That way they can enforce the ban on the days with the worst conditions.

He says he really sees grass fires get out of hand during red flag warnings, and without a burn ban, when residents call the fire departments to report they are having a controlled burn on those days, the departments can't tell them no.

"We do have red flag days here," said Strange. "It's just not a burn ban yet. I mean we do advise people that this is a bad day to burn. It's just not 'You can't burn,' yet."

To issue a burn ban, state law says there needs to be more fires than normal, no more  than a half inch of rain forecasted for the next three days and extreme drought conditions.

Comanche County Emergency Management Public Information Officer Ashleigh Hensch says that Strange's proposal won't help stop grass fires, and that their office can warn the county about fire dangers without the ban.

"For most of us it's kind of a cultural thing," said Hensch. "Making sure that we are aware that our actions can cause fires, and that our unique area of the world can become a tinder box at times."

But Strange believes if the counties can enforce a ban on red flag days, then it could raise the awareness of fire dangers, and prevent fires that are caused by a single spark.

"I mean you can still get your work done and your jobs done," said Strange. "Just on the days of such dangers we just ask that you don't do it."

Strange says Oklahoma's weather can change in just a matter of hours, and after spending days getting a burn ban approved the fire danger could pass, or a large grass fire could cause serious damage. Strange says he wants to bring his idea to the state department of emergency management for help in getting the gears turning on the red flag day burn ban.

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