Woodward, Okla. —
By Gary Engel
OKLAHOMA CITY - Due to the persistent drought-like conditions. Gov. Mary Fallin has issued a statewide burn ban.
Woodward City-County Emergency Management Director Matt Lehenbauer said the Governor's executive order stays in place until another one is issued to cancel it.
"This ban may last 4 to 6 weeks because of the conditions," he said.
Lehenbauer said county fire chiefs he's spoken with are in favor of the ban, especially as resources have been stressed with several recent large grass fires across the state.
As firefighters around the state are "extremely busy," Lehenbauer said he is hopeful issuance of the ban will remind citizens to be careful with fires - mostly by not lighting them.
Under the ban, outdoor burning is prohibited, although some exceptions are allowed under certain conditions.
He said the top concern fire crews and the public has are with outdoor cooking practices.
"Charcoal or gas (grills) may be used, on a nonflammable surface," he said. "The flames must be at least 5 feet away from flammable vegetation."
But campfires are prohibited, Lehenbauer added.
CAUTION REQUIRED WITH WELDING-RELATED ITEMS
Welding, cutting torches and grinders may also still be used as long as it is on a non-combustible surface at least 10 feet in diameter and welding blankets or screens are used to cover flammable vegetation. There must also be a pressurized water source or fire extinguisher at hand, as well as someone to serve as an observer to watch for wayward sparks.
Along a related line, Lehenbauer said those pulling trailers should be aware of sparks that may be caused by a tow chain dragging on the pavement, which can cause sparking and a "rolling grass fire" of flames caused to roadside grass while a vehicle is moving.
And cigarettes should not be thrown from vehicles, he said.
STORM AND LAND-CLEARING DEBRIS RULES
Woody debris are allowed to be burned, but also only under certain rules. Lehenbauer said an air-curtain incinerator, which burns debris in a pit below ground, is permitted.
Otherwise, when burning debris, the following conditions must be met:
- Area to be burned to be cleared of vegetation for a 15-square foot area.
- Wind speed less than 15 mph.
- Water and pumping equipment must be on-site.
There are other allowances made under the ban for Native American ceremonial fires, as long as they are conducted in sweat lodges or on non-flammable surfaces at least 10-feet-by-10 feet.
Gas vents and flares associated with the extraction of oil and gas, or gas from related manufacturing processes are generally exempt from the ban. So are landfill operations.
However, sludge pits may not be burned during the ban, Lehenbauer said.
More information about the burn ban is available by going to readywoodward.com, or Lehenbauer said the Oklahoma Forestry Service may be contacted at (405) 522-6158 to learn more. He can be reached at (405) 466-5356.
RESPONSIBILITY FOR FIRES
Lehenbauer said even if there's an accidental fire, the person who started it could be subject to a misdemeanor charge, and if convicted, could face a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail.
The situation could become a felony if someone is injured or killed by the fire, or if there is a level of damage considered major, he said.
"And there is also the possibility of civil action," Lehenbauer said, which could lead to stiff financial penalties.
Woodward, Okla. —
By Gary Engel
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