County Commissioners may soon have authority to declare burn bans

Oklahoma City_Press Release from the offices of Senator Don Barrington and Representative Don Armes:

County Commissioners may soon have the authority to declare burn bans in their counties thanks to a measure that passed the Senate Tuesday.  Senate Bill 1816 is authored by Sen. Don Barrington and Rep. Don Armes.

"As a former firefighter, I know all too well how important it is that burn bans be put in place as quickly as possible when an area is facing extremely dry conditions.  People don't always think about their actions or pay attention to the conditions, and the simple act of tossing a cigarette out the window or cooking out can lead to major devastation if the conditions are right," said Barrington R-Lawton.  "Being able to get a burn ban in place a day, two days or a week faster than normal will make a tremendous difference in the number of fires we see across the state."

Before declaring a burn ban, a board of county commissioners would have to have the consent of a majority of the municipal and certified rural fire department chiefs or their designees.  The ban would be effective for seven days from the day of passage and further resolutions could be passed if the extreme fire danger conditions continued.

"I'm thrilled to have this bill over the first hurdle.  I hope we can move it through the House quickly and find at least a little relief from the fires," said Armes, R-Faxon.  "Our volunteer firefighters are stretched to the limit right now.  We have to do everything we can to help.  This bill would be a great step in the right direction.

Under provisions of the bill, violators would be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of no more than $500, imprisonment for up to one year or both.  The measure also increases the fine for anyone who sets a fire during a gubernatorially-proclaimed burn ban from $500 to $1,000.

"This measure is about saving time and money.  When you're dealing with fire or the prevention of fire, every second counts," said Barrington.  "It's just not always feasible to have to wait on the Department of Forestry and the Governor to make a decision especially when we have fire officials in the area who are more familiar with their local conditions.  This bill is simply going to speed up the whole process which in the end could help prevent future wildfires."

If approved and signed into law, the measure would become effective immediately.  The measure now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration in committee.