Updated Burn Ban Map

Okiedawn OK Zone 7February 23, 2009

In light of the increasing number of grassfires and wildfires which have occurred in many parts of Oklahoma last week and this week, more and more county commissioners are enacting burn bans.

Even with burn bans, it is likely that the fires will continue to occur, but hopefully there will be fewer of them. We have had a burn ban here in Love County since November, except for one week when they let it expire, and we have had fires every week---but fewer fires than we had when there was not a burn ban.

The number of counties with burn bans changes almost daily because the burn ban law allows 7-day burn bans which the commissioners can either let expire or choose to renew on a weekly basis. Today there are 53 counties with burn bans on the map.

If you see a grass fire or wild fire in your area, please report it to the local authorities. And, if a fire is moving towards your home, turn on your sprinklers and you'll probably save not only your landscape plants but your home as well.

I've linked the burn ban map below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Oklahoma Forestry Service Burn Ban Map

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That's nice.

I have about 20 large trees on the ground waiting to be burned and it is just now getting dry enough for the ground to support the tractor for putting into burn piles. Plus there is not a blade of grass or debris of any kind within 50 yards of them, just green clover. Now we have a burn ban.

One more heavy rain this weekend and these trees (and the other 20 marked to cut down this week) will have to sit all year blocking my work activities and preventing mowing.

I'm sure it does more good than bad to have these burn bans, but many ag people suffer when blanket burn bans are implemented.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 12:33AM
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rjj1(Norman OK Zone7)


I agree with you for the most part. I have 7 piles of brush ready to burn. There have been 3 perfect mornings to do it in the past week. High humidity and no wind right before daylight. But no flames because of the ban.

But most probably aren't as thoughtful as we are in preparation and execution when it comes to burning. My next door neighbor scares me. The fire department came and put one of his piles out because of the high winds. His defense was he was standing there watching it. One flying spark beyond the reach of his hose and it's out of control.


    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 7:10AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I do understand your frustration. At times I share that frustration. We have neighbors (including volunteer firefighters) who have pasture or brush piles they need and want to burn, and I am confident they would do it right on a higher-humidity, lower-wind type of day with firebreaks and other necessary precautions, but it is too risky under the current conditions.

To tell you the truth, I am surprised your county (of all the counties in OK---yours????) has a burn ban. Have y'all been having a grass fire or wildfire problem? On the other hand, we all are at risk during late winter when all the vegetation is dry and dormant. Our worse winter wildfire season ever here (Fall '05-Spring '06) happened when only 6 or 8 months of drought in 2005 followed one of our wettest years (2004) because all that vegetation which grew by leaps and bounds in the heavy rains of 2004 dried out and turned into massive fuel loads in 2005.

I can only tell you that we have 5 to 8 times as many fires a week without a burn ban as we have with a burn ban. The cattlemen here like to burn off their pastures every winter to reduce the amount of invasive trees and brush in the pastures. With a burn ban in place, they are incredibly upset and have been putting immense pressure on our county commissioners. When the commissioners lifted the burn ban for 1 week to give the ranchers a chance to burn off those pastures, it was a disaster here. We had some volunteer firefighters, especially in the western and northern ends of the county, who were out at fires all day every day (and often at night as well), which is a tremendous hardship because no one was paying them to go to those fires.....and how many people can essentially take off a week of work with no pay? Our dept. had 3 fires in one afternoon and two of those three fires came much too close to homes and we were lucky to stop them before they got to those homes.

Four large ranches hired professional environmental management firms to burn off their pastures. They got state permits (and the commissioners agreed to let them burn DURING a burn ban), followed all the regulations for prescribed burns with plowed firebreaks completely encircling the area, etc. The results? Three of those four prescribed burns left their own property and burned onto other property, in come cases threatening homes, large numbers of bales of hay and livestock. A couple of those fires jumped their firebreaks day after day after day. So, even the folks trying to do it right are having problems with the fire "escaping" from their control in our severe drought conditions here in southcentral OK.

At our house we have a brush pile we'd like to burn, but we wouldn't even burn it during the week the ban was lifted because the conditions here where we live are too dry whether there is a burn ban or not.

Randy, I've seen several large fires from your area on the news lately. It makes me more nervous to see large grass or wild fires in a more heavily populated area because it can be hard to get to all the homes and evacuate folks who are in danger. At least here in a lightly populated area, there are not as many people in harm's way when a fire is out of control.

On Sunday, in a Texas county across the river from us, a house fire near Lake Texoma turned into a grassfire which then ran wild and took out at least one other house and some shed/garage/barn/shop type buildings. I don't remember how many volunteer fire depts. were there, but they had 37 fire trucks and about 75 firefighters on the scene and still had trouble stopping that fire.

The worst fires we have here in southern OK often occur in March when there is not yet enough green-up of vegetation to slow down the fires, and we have north winds in the 30-40 mph range. Once March passes, conditions improve and if rain is falling, they really improve. If rain doesn't fall and the spring green-up is slow, we'll have wildfire problems deep into April and maybe into May as well.

I am sure the residents in Lone Grove are incredibly frustrated. They have piles and piles of tornado debris and burning those huge piles would be the fastest way to deal with it, particular for landowners with huge amounts of trees down, but they remain under a burn ban like the rest of us around here.

During the 2005-2006 wildfire season, we all kept saying to ourselves (and proudly) that we hadn't lost a single home to the massive wildfires. It was a remarkable achievement considering the number of wildfires and their size. Last fall, in Sept., an arson wildfire spread to a home near Lake Murray and, were it not for homeowners who were outside with water hoses wetting down their own yards and exterior walls, we probably would have had more than one home burning. That fire raced across dry grasslands and caught the home on fire before firefighters could even arrive on-scene. It is those kinds of wildfires that burn bans are trying to prevent. Watching someone's home and possessions burn makes me ill--there is really very little you can say to comfort someone who is watching everything they own go up in smoke. We try to comfort them by reminding them that it all is "just stuff" and at least all their family and pets are safe, but that is not much comfort to those people because it is, after all, their "stuff". And, I will not even begin to describe the horror of watching livestock and wild animals running out of burning areas literally on fire. It is too awful to describe.

Grass fires are often beneficial to the grassland/forested areas because they burn off fire ladder fuels beneath the trees and they burn off invasive plants, like cedar and greenbrier, that infiltrate grasslands and the edges of woodlands. So, if you can control prescribed burns, you can improve the health of your native pastures/woods. We have 10 acres of woodland on our own property that we'd love to burn via a prescribed burn in order to remove all the excess and invasive undergrowth, but we'll never do it because that 10 acres of woods is surrounded on three sides by grasslands.....and there are homes in those grassy areas. In the current conditions, even prescribed burns are just too risky.

Scott, check the burn ban map weekly. The odds are that your county commissioners will not renew it endlessly like ours have because y'all have not been nearly as dry. You also could call your commissioner and see if you can get a permit to burn despite the burn ban. Our commissioners will make exceptions for people who follow all the prescribed burn regulations and get the permit.

I wish there were no need for burn bans and fire watches and fire warnings, but we live in a grassland/mixed woodland state where drought is all too common and I don't think we'll ever really be "safe" from the prospect of wildfire here. Since we moved here in 1999, the grass fire and wild fire risk seems to be worsening from year to year. The solution? Who knows? Before we moved to Oklahoma, we'd occasionally drive through the state when traveling on vacation, and I always thought those signs that say "DO NOT DRIVE INTO SMOKE ON HIGHWAYS" were one of the oddest things I'd ever seen, and I couldn't imagine why the state of Oklahoma spent money putting them up. I thought they were just silly. Having lived here a while now, and having seen more grass and wild fires than I can count, I finally understand why those signs are there.


    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 8:31AM
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rjj1(Norman OK Zone7)


If I remember right, the fire just a few miles north of me was caused by some idiot that threw his burning cigarette out the window. Or that may have been the one up by Edmond. Or the one on the northwest side. Or maybe all of them.

Another month and things will green up, we'll get a little more moisture, and I can get rid of my piles. :-)


    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 9:46AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


One of our most perplexing fires this year was a series of grassfires along the western edge of I-35, all of which seemed to ignite more or less simultaneously. With a vigorous wind blowing out of the east (rare for us), some of the fires were moving towards structures.

After several departments extinguished the series of fires, large pieces of tire tread, probably from a semi tractor-trailer truck, were found near the ignition point of each fire. Normally, burning tire tread pieces don't start fires, but we've been very dry. Even a dragging chain will spark fires here right now. Last summer, I was mowing alongside the gravel driveway and a spark (I think the mower blade hit a small rock) ignited the dry grass. I stomped it out instantly though.

One of our common ignition sources is squirrels. They get into an electrical transformer, spark an electrical fire and that starts a grass fire. We had one of those here a couple of weeks ago. You can blame it on the squirrel when you find a fried squirrel at the ignition source of a fire.

My husband and son keep telling me that cigarettes nowadays are self-extinguishing and don't start as many fires as most people think they do, but I am not convinced.

Sadly, too, many of our fires are arson. However, since they arrested at least one suspected arsonist, and questioned several others, we've had significantly fewer fires that are suspected arson fires.


    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 10:17AM
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I live in Tulsa county and there's no burn ban here. This weekend when the wind was low my father decided to burn off the area where he was putting his garden. He got a friend and armed him with the starter and fuel, then he went to get on the tractor and dig a break around the area. Once he got well started, the friend decided that was a good time to light it up - before the fire break was even half finished. Of course the fire got out and we had 13 trucks here before it was over, chasing the fire across the field. There weren't any homes for over a mile and I was impressed with how quickly they put it out (within a quarter mile or so, I think). I believe my father will now get a hefty fine and he still didn't get his garden area burned off because that was the first place the firefighters put out the fire!

    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 10:22AM
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It is difficult to make those burn ban decisions. For every problem caused (like mine) there are a few solved in advance with the ban. I do about 10 large burn piles per winter, and I had one get a bit out of control last year. Fortunately, ours have nowhere to go because it is all bottomland with mostly green clover.

One negative to the bans that is true with me is that sometimes I do burns on days I would otherwise not because I am constantly worrying that a ban will be put in place at any time. I just can't wait until April because I will then kill parts of the canopies of my pecan trees when I burn the thinned trees.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 10:52PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Gamebird, I don't understand how they can fine him for burning since there is no burn ban, unless there is a city or county ordinance that allows fines for any fire which is deliberately started (even if its purpose is just to burn a brush pile or garden stubble or whatever) and which subsequenty gets out of control.

Scott, I understand what you're saying about the fire damaging tree canopies above it....you're sort of in a situation where you can't win at this point. I still think your county might not keep the ban in place long. There have been a lot of fires the last couple of weeks so everyone is trying to be pro-active and stop the fires before they start by passing burn bans. With a couple of weeks without a big fire, everyone might relax and start dropping the bans, at least in the northeastern part of the state.

If that happens, burn your brush piles quickly before a couple of fires happen and the commissioners pass a new burn ban. Two counties near us--one on the Texas side and one on the OK side dropped their burn bans and immediately had so many fires that they passed new bans within 3 or 4 days.

Today started out with high humidity and mild winds so I thought we might have a fire-free day. I was wrong. the temps rose, the humidity dropped and the winds kicked up a bit and it was all downhill from there. All kinds of trouble broke out during the mid-afternoon. I think at one point 9 or 10 of our county's 14 VFDs were out at 3 separate fires. In fact, our fire dept. got paged out to 2 of those fires simultaneously--one to our west and one to our east. (You know, it is hard for them to be two places at once.) I was here at the house thinking that if a fire broke out here in our rural neighborhood, we'd just have to fight it with the garden hoses until the firefighters could get back here in the trucks.

There must have been some big fires somewhere in Tx or Ok today because our skies were full of smoke around 4 or 5 p.m.---and I mean way more smoke than our fires here produced.

We really need rain and not just here in southern OK--we need it everywhere in this state.


    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 11:45PM
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I had assumed that there was a charge. The guy who started the fire said that one of the firemen on site was asking him where my father was (because he was the land owner) and told him, "I've got 13 trucks here at $200 a truck" and that he needed to talk to the landowner.

If I call an ambulance, I have to pay them (assuming my insurance doesn't). If the cops come out for something, they're going to try to get money from someone (and/or arrest someone), or else minimize their time there if money and/or someone to charge with criminal activity doesn't look to be forthcoming. I'd assumed the firefighters were the same way. Like the fireman said, he's got trucks on scene and they cost money. Someone has to pay that money, even if the fire started by arson or accident. Failing being able to pin it on an arsonist or locate the person who caused the accident, charging the landowner seems like the most reasonable course. And in this case it was an intentionally set fire.

I don't know much about how this stuff works though. I have a bunch of assumptions (except about the cops and ambulances, where I have observations and have been charged for ambulance service). You almost certainly know more than I do about fire services. How do those work for payment?

    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 10:39AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Thirteen trucks at $200 per truck sounds excessive to me, but I only know how we do it here in Love County...and we don't do it that way.

Everyone does it differently, but 13 of our 14 VFDs in this county rely on a small state subsidy (we're talking about a few thousand dollars a year), a small county tax subsidy, (there again, only a few thousand dollars a year) and their own fund-raising efforts.

Our fire dept. members spend as much time (or more) on fund-raising projects as they do fighting fires and working at other disasters, including motor vehicle accidents.

Sometimes you can qualify for grants that pay for the cost of firefighter protective bunker gear, which runs about $2000-$3000 per firefighter, or other firefighting equipment but those grants are hard to get and you only get 2 or 3 per decade.

Our VFD is the newest one in the county and it is about 6.5 years old. Starting a VFD from scratch is hard....you can't qualify for grants for equipment until you have a station, and you can't build a station, which easily costs in the tens of thousands of dollars, without grants. Our fire dept. would not exist without the kindness of the Ardmore-based Noble Foundation which provided a grant that helped build our station, and many local residents supported that effort too.

There are 14 volunteer fire depts. in this county and the only one I know of that does not have to struggle to get enough money to remain in operation is the Marietta Fire Dept., and its' operating costs are subsidized by the city of Marietta. Most of the rest of the VFDs are in unincorporated county areas so get nothing but the small state and county subsidies.

One dept. in our county uses a Billing Service and they bill for every call they run. It has made them extremely unpopular and I don't want to get into a discussion of all the whys and wherefores, but I know from comments made to us by community members that the use of the billing service has antagonized many community members (including members of other fire depts.) and is, in my opinion, a public relations disaster for them. I don't even know if that fire dept. is aware of the bad PR though.

We sometimes seek voluntary reimbursement from "customers" served by our VFD but we don't demand it and we don't expect it. We're just glad if we receive some reimbursement. Normally, if our firefighters save something that is insured, like a structure, vehicle, cattle or crop, etc., we send the insurance company a letter asking for a donation to the fire dept. which saved them from having to pay a fire claim, and most of them routinely respond with a donation of a couple of hundred dollars.

We have a cooperative agreement with the Bureau of Indian Affairs which means that, if we fight a fire on "Indian land" (and I never know if we are on Indian land or not, but some of our members do), we are reimbursed for that, although we have to file a "claim" similar to an insurance claim to get that. Once again, the amount is not very large, but every $ helps. (The BIA is very good to work with and very efficient and they send BIA firefighters to help us with big wildfires, and I can say nothing at all about them except good stuff. Hurray!)

The members of our community are very supportive. We are in a part of Love County known as Shady Dale (I think Shady Dale actually had a train station decades ago, and a school and businesses and stuff but now it is just homes and churches, farms and ranches, etc.). The Shady Dale community members support us every way they can--attending our fund raisers, bringing food and cases of water and Gatorade for the firefighters, etc. Many community members pull out a checkbook and write us a check before we leave the scene of a fire on their place, or mail us a thank you card and check afterwards.

When you said he had 13 fire trucks there at a cost of $200 per truck, I was stunned. We're lucky if we can get $200 total reimbursement from a landowner--and, even then, that is voluntary.

In Texas, you can buy a "membership" to support your local VFD and I like that idea. If you have a "membership", which is different amounts in different areas, but let's say it is usually about $75 to $150 a year, the you aren't billed if they respond to a fire at your place. If you don't buy a membership and you do have a fire, they will bill you, but I don't know how the billing system works.

Our county's law enforecement is paid for via county taxes and they don't charge for calls. They do have to survive on a shoestring budget though. Our county's ambulance service does bill, and I think it is about $800 to $1000 per run. Our local air ambulance service, based in Ardmore, is about $5000 per run, but you can buy a family membership for about $50 or $75 annually and, if you have the membership, you aren't billed the $5000.

So, as you can tell, volunteer fire dept. funding is a hodge-podge and a mish-mash of small tax subsidies, grants, donations, insurance payments, etc. Every volunteer fire dept. I know struggles to come up with the money to put gas in the trucks and repair the trucks as they break down (which is constantly, but not surprising considering most of the trucks are 20, 30 or 40 years old). In our county, most of our VFDs are currently operating in the hole because they have spent more money for gas and repairs than they have.....the county "carries" them up to a point, but I don't know what they do if a VFD stays in the red all the time or gets too deeply in debt. I was kind of shocked when my hubby came home from a county fire association meeting and said most of the VFDs are operating in the red. It makes me think that we need a better funding method.

The Shady Dale VFD is not running in the red and hasn't, as far as I know, since my husband became chief a couple of years ago, and I don't know if they've ever operated in the red----we are very, very fiscally conservative. We are blessed to have a great bunch of guys, including some very, very talented mechanics, builders and welders who can repair trucks, build trucks almost from scratch, build and expand their own fire station, etc. Without this bunch of guys that we have now, I don't know how our dept. would survive.

And, all of that is just my way of saying that, if they bill your dad $200 per truck, I understand it because running a fire dept. takes a lot of money, but I hate that they have to bill him, if you know what I mean. I wish there was a better way.

And, sometimes I am amazed at how good people are. One day, well over a year ago, our guys responded to a fire at an investment property. We were not the closest fire dept. to that location, so we were responding to provide "mutual aid". The owner of that investment property watched our guys work and was so thrilled by how quickly they put out the fire that he set up an account for us at a local fuel supplier and he pays $175 per month on our fuel bill. He's done it for well over a year now and I guess it is his way of supporting our VFD. I don't know if he does the same thing for the VFD in the part of the county where he lives, but we appreciate him and his financial support so much. If "karma" means anything, this gentleman should expect only good things to flow his way.

In the state of Oklahoma all so-called "controlled burns" are illegal, technically, unless you jump through a lot of hoops and get a "Prescribed burn" permit and then there's a gazillion more hoops to jump through after you get the permit. Those hoops include having plowed firebreaks (and wide ones at that), and only burning when wind levels, temperatures and humidities are at certain levels. So, really, without a prescribed burn permit, no one should be burning pastures, garden or field stubble, trash, brush, etc., but the reality is that everyone does it. And, when one of those "controlled burns" gets out of control and fire departments have to respond, I guess someone is expected to pay for that.

Finally, when fire depts. respond to certain "declared disasters" like tornadoes, massive wildfires and floods, sometimes you can get FEMA reimbursement for certain things--like damage to a truck that occurs at one of these disasters. To get FEMA reimbursement, though, you have to file tons of paperwork and then, if you are lucky, you'll get reimbursed a year or two later.


    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 2:14PM
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Thank you very much for the information. I'll let you know if a bill or letter comes in to my parents. If I think of it tomorrow during business hours, I'll call the local chamber of commerce or fire department and ask them what the policy is, as a "concerned citizen". It should be public information.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 9:29PM
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