The Senate Agriculture Committee passed a measure this week to give county commissioners the authority to proclaim burn bans in their counties. Currently, the Governor is the only entity with this power, but Senate Bill 1816, by Sen. Don Barrington and Rep. Don Armes, would change that.
“When counties are facing extremely dry conditions, it’s imperative that our local officials be able to proclaim a burn ban immediately in order to spare land, businesses and homes from possible destruction,” said Barrington, R-Lawton. “All it takes is one person burning trash or someone tossing a cigarette out a car window to cause acres of destruction.”
Before passing a resolution declaring the fire danger, a board would need the consent of a majority of the municipal and certified rural fire department chiefs or their designees in the county that such a fire danger exists. The resolution would be effective for seven days from the day of passage. If the extreme fire danger conditions persisted, subsequent resolutions could be passed.
“Typically, the county commissioners and rural fire departments are the ‘Boots on the ground’ in areas where dry conditions can develop rapidly,” said Armes, R-Faxon. “This measure would allow counties to be proactive and effectively get ahead of the fire danger, address dry conditions quicker and hopefully decrease property loss and reduce risk of injury to firefighters.”
Under provisions of the bill, violators would be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of no more than $500, imprisonment for up to one year or both. The measure also increases the fine for anyone who sets a fire during a gubernatorially-proclaimed burn ban from $500 to $1,000.
“Our state is all too familiar with how devastating wild fires can be,” said Barrington. “This bill will help speed up the process and help prevent future wildfires by letting those living and working in the area decide what their level of fire danger is and take immediate action, rather than having to wait on the Governor to make an announcement.”
If approved and signed into law, the measure would become effective immediately.