Commissioner issued burn ban bill awaits Gov. Henry's signature

Lawton_The grass may be green now, but most of us remember the recent wildfire season all too well.  During that time, more than 200 wildfires roared through Comanche County - not including those that raged in Lawton.

Although our ground and vegetation were extremely dry, our area officials were unable to get the state to issue a burn ban.  Comanche County commissioners requested on in January, but Governor Brad Henry denied the request.  Experts agreed, and advised Governor Henry that our conditions didn't call for a burn ban.  However, he finally declared a ban at the end of January.

Because of the disagreement about when a burn ban should be issued, lawmakers passed a new law this session to give local county commissioners the authority to institute one when they think conditions warrant one.  However, it's still not a done deal.  It passed the House and Senate, and now all the Governor has to do is sign the bill, and thanks to our lawmakers we'll all be a little safer next wildfire season.

No burn ban was issued after a welder accidentally started a wildfire in January that ripped through 6,000 acres.  Had commissioners been given the authority to institute a burn ban themselves, the fire could have been prevented.  "A lot of the county commissioners, like our county commissioners, kind of requested that we be able to provide them with a tool to speed up the process of a burn ban," said Representative Don Armes (R), Faxon.

Commissioners agreed, so lawmakers got to work writing a new bill.  "I was proud to be the house author and proud to work with Senator Don Barrington (R), Lawton, in passing it," said Armes.  "I think it was a needed thing to do, especially after the county applied for a burn ban, or requested a burn ban, from the Governor and it took them 10 days to get a reply," said Barrington.  After ten days of waiting - the request was still denied.  However, that the Governor's office says that the burn ban request must be formally issued by the Agriculture Department, and was not.

Several weeks, and many wildfires later, a burn ban finally went into effect.  "By the time you go through the process of requesting [a burn ban] and the Governor declaring a burn ban, there may not even be a need for one," said Barrington.

So, lawmakers say this piece of legislation is vital.  "It exemplifies what I believe government is all about," said Comanche County Commissioner Ron Kirby.  "That is the state returning power back to the local government officials.  Luckily this year we lost no lives.  I think we lost one occupied structure during the wildfire season."

With this new piece of legislation, officials feel that wildfires could be prevented, and it would mean more homes, and more lives are saved.  "From a fire chief's perspective, prevention is always better than actually having to respond," said Lawton Fire Chief Bart Hadley.  Although it will be easier to institute a burn ban with this new bill, it will also be easier to remove it.  For example, if the Comanche County sees heavy rains, commissioners won't have to wait days for word from the Capitol to cancel the ban.

Under state law, Governor Henry has 15 days to sign bills that are passed in the final week of the session, but commissioners say he has indicated that he will sign the measure.  You can count on 7News to let you now when the bill is in effect.