Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

August 10, 2012

Officials: Some fires may be arson

TAHLEQUAH — Brief rains Wednesday and Thursday left many locals wondering whether a burn ban is still in place, and local fire chiefs are quick to answer the question.

Parts of the county did receive some precipitation, but not nearly enough to put a dent in the drought conditions, Tahlequah Fire Chief Ray Hammons said.

“After we got a little rain, about 10 people called me wanting to know if it was OK to burn,” said Hammons. “It’s going to have to rain a really long time before they’d lift this burn ban. We’ve lost over 200 homes in Oklahoma due to wildland fires and arson, so I think it’s going to take considerable rainfall before it gets lifted.”

Hammons said residents should know through daily news reports, and their own common sense, that the land is still dangerously dry.

“We’ve responded to a few burn-ban violations,” said Hammons.

“We’re not trying to beat anybody up over a fire, but at this point, it’s so dry, if they’re out there burning, they should know they shouldn’t be burning. You can’t turn on the TV without seeing someone who lost their home to a fire.”

Under the statewide burn ban, violations are misdemeanor crimes punishable by a fine of $500-$1,000, and up to one year in the county jail. One person in Cherokee County has already been officially charged in district court for allegedly burning debris and using a charcoal grill. More charges could be filed before any relief is in sight.

“If you’re burning intentionally, you’re going to get up to a $1,000 fine, you could get up to a year in jail, and you’re going to get a $500 bill from the city of Tahlequah if [the Tahlequah Fire Department] has to respond,” said Hammons.

TFD responded to two grass fires Wednesday afternoon in the Grand View area – one on Burchett Road, and another on Benton Road – but neither were intentional.

“Both of them were started by electric lines,” said Hammons.

“A tree knocked one down after the wind came through, and the other one started underneath a major power line.”

Hammons said TFD has responded to a couple of large wildfires since the burn ban was put in place, and several blazes that had been started intentionally. One large fire was near Eldon, where Tahlequah firefighters worked with Welling to battle the flames in a wooded area. Forestry firefighters have also been called out to help TFD and other local departments.

Several of the fires TFD has responded to in recent weeks have been deemed arson.

“Some people are setting fires for orneriness,” he said.

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Do you think "blue laws" related to Sunday alcohol sales in Oklahoma should be relaxed? Choose the option that most closely reflects your opinion.

Alcoholic drinks should be sold Sundays in restaurants and bars, and liquor stores should be open.
Alcoholic drinks should be sold Sundays in restaurants and bars only; liquor stores should stay closed.
Liquor stores should be open Sundays, but drinks should not be served anywhere on Sundays.
The law should remain as it is now; liquor stores should be closed, and drinks should be served on Sundays according to county option.
No alcohol should be sold or served publicly on Sundays.
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