Governor denies Comanche County burn ban request

Lawton_Oklahoma officials have turned down Comanche County's request for a burn ban.  It's been two weeks since county commissioners sent the request to Governor Brad Henry's office.  Commissioners made the request because of recent grassfires in the area, but the state denied the request on the grounds that the weather isn't contributing to the wildfires.

But, local fire and county officials say we still need a burn ban, and it takes too long to secure one from the Governor's office.  They say they're shocked at the refusal, and they say our current weather conditions are perfect to spark wildfires.  Officials say they need all the help they can get.

Comanche County Emergency Management Director Clint Wagstaff says a fire like one in the eastern part of the county last week prompted the Comanche County Commissioners to ask for the burn ban.  "Our county is a tinderbox as you know.  We've had several fires over the past couple of weeks," says Wagstaff.  Despite many wildfire outbursts, commissioners got their answer ten days later.

Fletcher Police Chief Jon Shepard says ten days is too long, and we shouldn't have to wait.  "This should be our county that makes the determination.  They're not here," he says.  Under the state forestry office's recommendation, Governor Henry denied the burn ban, but local officials say it's not good enough.  "We had a great spring, everything was green and lush and growing, and we're paying for it now," says Shepard.

"That vegetation - with the wind - dries out in a hurry, and when we have winds like we've had recently that get upwards," says Lawton Fire Chief Bart Hadley.  "It's very difficult for any fire department to stay ahead of a grassfire."

County Commissioner Ron Kirby says the forester's office advised him to use its "broad general authority" to find a "local" solution.  "What power that is, I don't know.  Other than the fact of just urging everybody to be extremely, extremely careful," he says.  "I think that we still need a burn ban here in the county, for our local fire departments and citizens." 

Oklahoma Senator Don Barrington, a former fire chief himself, says ten days is far too long to wait for this kind of decision.  He says he is looking into ways to pass the authority to local levels.

Even though there is not an official burn ban, fire and county officials are asking residents to be extremely cautious when welding, grilling or doing outside burning in high wind conditions.