Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

July 26, 2012

Commissioners impose burn ban

TAHLEQUAH — Cherokee County was placed under a 30-day burn ban Wednesday morning, more than a week after commissioners first rejected the idea.

District 3 Commissioner Mike Ballard and District 2 Commissioner Bobby Botts said they both talked to fire departments in their district about the ban, and Ballard said he contacted the local Forestry Services.

“They’re all pretty much in favor of a burn ban now,” said Ballard.

If the extreme fire conditions continue beyond the 30-day ban, commissioners can also extend it. Ballard said commissioners can also revisit the burn ban if the county receives a substantial amount of rain before the 30-day ban expires.

“We can always call it off, but I don’t think they’re forecasting any major rain anytime soon,” said Ballard.

According to the resolution calling for the burn ban, it is unlawful to set fire to any forest, grass, range, crop or other wildlands, or to build a campfire or bonfire. Burning trash or other material is also prohibited.

For outdoor grilling, only gas or electric grills can be used, and those should be placed on a hard surface such as concrete, with an extinguishing source nearby, according to Tahlequah Fire Chief Ray Hammons.

County commissioners say residents must contact their local fire departments for approval of exceptions to the burn ban. Violations can result in misdemeanor charges punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $500, according to the county resolution, although state statutes allow for a fine of up to $1,000.

In the past two weeks, less than two outside fires per day have been reported to the 911 call center on average, according to Cherokee County 911 Coordinator Marty Kimble’s estimates. Those numbers appear to be on target with yearly averages for this time of year, officials said.

Sizes of the outside fires reported in recent weeks have varied, burning at times only small patches of ground, and in some cases several acres of land. A number of the reported fires were rekindles of previous blazes. Kimble also said there may have been some outside fires that weren’t reported to the 911 center.

When commissioners first discussed a burn ban earlier this month, they decided not to declare a prohibition after talking to fire chiefs within the county. Under state law, a majority of fire chiefs in the county must agree that a period of extreme fire danger exists for a burn ban to be declared.

State statutes also outline several other requirements for passing a burn ban that focus on rainfall amounts, drought conditions and percentages of wildfires caused by escaped debris or controlled burning.

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