By Traci Chapman
Canadian County Commissioners Monday reinstituted a burn ban after recent storms failed to put a dent in dangerous dry conditions across the area.
“According to the drought monitor, we are in the second most severe level,” District 1 Commissioner Marc Hader said. “As much as we’ve gotten some precipitation here, the vegetation’s dead and I think we’re in a hazardous situation.”
Area fire chiefs agreed with that assessment, Canadian County Emergency Management Director Andrew Skidmore said during commissioners’ regular Monday meeting. Chiefs unanimously were in favor of re-implementing the ban the board allowed to expire Monday, March 7, after winter storms blanketed the area with snow.
However, even after the latest seemingly significant snowfall Friday, the area remained in the “extreme drought” category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor; some areas of the state – parts of the panhandle and some far western locales were as of press time characterized as the worst condition, D4 – “exceptional drought.”
Perhaps best illustrating the dangerous conditions that concerned officials, the area has been plagued by several grass fires in recent weeks, something District 3 Commissioner Jack Stewart pointed out during Monday’s meeting.
In fact, according to Oklahoma Highway Patrol, Interstate 40 was closed in both directions Sunday at mile marker 121 – just east of Country Club Road in El Reno, according to Oklahoma Department of Transportation maps – due to a grass fire. The closure lasted for more than an hour, OHP reported.
According to the Oklahoma Mesonet, much of Canadian County and the surrounding area has gone 25 days with less than .25-inch daily rainfall, although that number is slightly less in the far east part of the county, with the Mesonet reporting 20 days at that level.
The burn ban signed by commissioners took effect at 9 a.m. Monday, March 14, and would remain in place until 9 a.m. Monday, March 28. That could change, however, when the board revisits the issue during its next meeting, scheduled for 9 a.m. March 21 – should conditions approve.
The ban makes it a crime for anyone to “purposefully set fire or to ignite material such as fireworks, campfires, bonfires or fires to burn trash, debris, vegetation, agricultural fields, forest or grass range unless otherwise granted special permission by the Canadian County Board of Commissioners or their designee.”
The resolution signed Monday did allow some exemptions to the ban. Those include:
- Outdoor grilling – Gas grills are allowed, as well as charcoal grills that have a hood covering the cooking area;
- Cutting and welding operations – These activities may be allowed on a case-by-case basis but only after approval by local fire authorities who have jurisdiction over the operation’s location;
- Vegetative debris burning – Special exemptions for burning grass or vegetation may be obtained but only under special circumstances that include favorable weather conditions and forecasts, a 48-hour advance request, submission of a detailed burn plan and “adequate fire suppression,” which must be approved through a permit issued by local fire authority.
Anyone convicted of violating the ban faces a possible misdemeanor charge and could be fined a maximum $500 and spend up to a year in jail, or both, if convicted.
In other business, commissioners during their Monday meeting:
- Approved expenditures at Canadian County Expo & Event Center for a flagpole and the cost for construction manager Lingo Construction to fill sanitary tanks at the site;
- Tabled a submitted door frame repair invoice for work at Gary E. Miller Canadian County Children’s Justice Center until the correct paperwork could be submitted; and
- Discussed a net gain of more than $300,000 after the sale of some equipment during last week’s Elk City auction – monies that would be put back into capital items, Hader said.