OT: Burn Bans & Fireworks: Can you? Should you?

Okiedawn OK Zone 7June 29, 2011

At the time I'm typing this, 34 counties in Oklahoma have enacted burn bans because of the dangerously dry conditions which have elevated fire danger.

A day or two back I linked the OFS Burn Ban map. This morning, I noticed the OFS had come back and posted a "fireworks" chart to try to clarify if you can, cannot or "might could" (to borrow a phrase from Jeff Foxworthy)use fireworks in counties with a burn ban.

I'm linking the updated burn ban map/fireworks listing in case any of you are wondering if your family can use fireworks in your area if you have a burn ban. In some cases, the chart from the OFS may refer you back to your specific county's burn ban resolution because your commissioners may have decided to allow the use of fireworks with specific restrictions that require a more detailed explanation than OFS can squeeze into the allowed space on their chart.

I hope this info is helpful if any of you are trying to figure out what to do about the Great Fireworks Dilemma of 2011.


Here is a link that might be useful: Fireworks Usage in Counties With Burn Bans

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I won't need to do fireworks. The neighborhood kids will be doing it for me. :(

    Bookmark   June 29, 2011 at 4:22PM
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That kinda makes me sad, because we have two neighbors that put together very nice shows using the big shells. I'd rather watch those from my front yard than fight the parking to see the city or casino displays. I understand the danger of setting fires with them, though.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2011 at 4:53PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

It makes me sad too, but it is just too dry.

I'm actually surprised at how many counties enacted burn bans before the Fourth of July holiday. I think the big fires in Texas and Arizona already had everyone's attention, and then the Medicine Park fire brought it closer to home. Some counties in NW OK have been having fires for quite a while now too.

Down in Texas where the drought is much worse than it is here, a record-setting 235 of their 254 counties have burn bans in place. Prior to this, I believe the record was 221 counties in the drought of 2005-2006. Of course, for the affected areas of Texas, this drought likely is worse than that one. With that one, most of Texas didn't start burning until Nov. or Dec. of 2005. This one is different because they went into spring and summer already deeply in drought and their winter wildfire season simply morphed into a spring wildfire season which then morphed into a summer wildfire season. I cannot imagine what it is like trying to grow anything in much of Texas now.

At least the lower Rio Grande Valley is likely to get a little relief from Arlene's outer bands. It won't be enough, but anything will help.


    Bookmark   June 29, 2011 at 10:43PM
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I'm curious about the status of Texas's water resources right now. Having exceptional drought over such a massive area has to have an impact on the water supply out there. I imagine most of that area out west probably uses groundwater, but it can't last forever.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2011 at 11:52PM
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Dawn, as a west coast transplant, I have to say that I really hope people will use common sense and hold off on the fireworks in the dry countryside. The slightest spark and it's going to go up in flames. I know there will be plenty around us in Bethel Acres, because the neighbors have been setting them off for days already. I do love fireworks, but I've also been through some major wildfires that destroyed hundreds of homes and countless animals. That's in spite of the fact that the west coast is far better prepared for it, with the big boron fire bombers, and an array of fire-fighting helicopters. We stood in the driveway and watched huge trees explode on the ridge above our home, before we were evacuated . . . for nearly a month. We stood on the deck and prayed for the big helicopters with their lovely water buckets to show up overhead. I don't ever want to do it again.

Last year we had fire come within 1/2 mile of us, on two separate occasions. That's too close. With our wind, a spark can drift before you know it, and then it's too late. With the kind of tree cover that Oklahoma has, and as dry as it is, it's a torch just waiting to be ignited. I HOPE people are smart, and play it safe this year. There will be other 4th of July celebrations, but maybe not other homes, or animals, or people that may be trapped, unable to escape


    Bookmark   July 1, 2011 at 7:25PM
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Elk City has a bunch of signs that state "no fireworks $500 fine". The dry weather definitely ruined my vacation. We were going to go to eastern Oklahoma but can't afford to have idiots burn the farm down when they sneak into the country to light em. Wouldn't it be easier to designate a fireworks zone in some areas so at least the fire fighters can be near instead of having to run every where? Probably works easier in theory ha ha.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2011 at 10:34PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


After the seven-year-drought in the 1950s, which I don't remember because I wasn't yet born, Texas realized they needed a better water plan and embarked on an ambitious program of building reservoirs. Lots of reservoirs. Almost 200 have been built since then, and most of them are used as part of someone's water supply, although many areas also rely on groundwater. I think I read something the other day that said Texas is at risk of running out of water in....40 years or so if they don't build more reservoirs. However, that doesn't mean Texas has endless amounts of water. The water isn't always in the reseroirs or aquifers where it is most needed. Some water districts have a nearby reservoir. Then, if that runs low, they can pipe water from another lake as far as hundreds of miles away. That can be expensive, though, and water districts don't want to have to incur the extra expense, so many areas of Texas have automatic water-restrictions that start on a set date every year and, presumably, end on a predetermined date. Often, during drought, they stack more restrictions on top of the regular restrictions. Texas hasn't built many reservoirs the last couple of decades even as population has increased and continues to increase in staggering numbers. That's where I think they're messing up. In recent years, at least one Texas water district has been trying to buy Oklahoma water. When we declined to sell it to them, they began filing lawsuits to try to force us to sell water to them. I just think that is so wrong, and I believe that so far Texas is not winning in the court system.

There was an article in a recent issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine that was about "water" in Texas. I'll try to find and link it. It does, of course, look at water as a finite resource that everyone is concerned about because it is so much more than just the water we use in our homes and landscapes and it serves so many other purposes, including serving fisheries, recreation, providing ecosystems for wildlife, etc. I was impressed at the many ways Texas are working together to protect this precious resource.

Pat, If people would use common sense and refrain from engaging in risky behavior, we wouldn't need the burn bans, would we? (sigh) I am sure it is going to be a horrible 4 or 5 days for all the firefighers and other emergency personnel.

We have endured recurring droughts in southcentral Oklahoma since moving here in 1999: the drought of 1998-99, 2003, 2005-06, 2008-09 and now this one. The worst year for our neighborhood was 2005-06. We had four wildfires less than a quarter-mile from our place within a 2-week period during that wildfire season. In 2008-09, the worst fires were further north and west in our county where it seemingly is always drier than it is here. They get a few inches less per year of rainfall than the more eastern parts of the county and you really can see the difference it makes in a bad wildfire year.

Lizgyrl, In some counties you can do that. Ours is one of them. I think 2 or 3 different VFDs have established a set location, date and time when people can come to that location and set off their fireworks. The VFDs will have firefighters and firetrucks standing by in case any fires start. I don't think this is necessarily a great solution because it is likely people still will set off fireworks elsewhere and will start fires. What do you do then? The firefighters can't leave to go to that fire because they're committed to staying in that pre-determined spot so people can set off their fireworks. For that reason (and for legal liability reasons as well), our dept. declined to set up a site for monitored fireworks.

It has already begun here. Earlier in the week, we had an arson fire that was caused by someone deliberately throwing lit fireworks out of a vehicle into tall grass.

And today, over in LeFlore County, children playing with fireworks accidentally started a grassfire that burned 5 acres, destroyed 1 home and damaged a mobile home.

I think it is going to be a long holiday weekend, and not in a good way. Remember that in most areas, your firefighters do more than respond to fires. They serve as first responders in medical emergencies, they are dispatched to motor vehicle accidents, they're dispatched to search for people who are believed to have drowned, they are dispatched to find lost hikers or hunters or fishermen or whatever....so a holiday weekend during a drought will stretch all our local fire departments (many of whom are made up of volunteers) about as far as they can be stretched.


Here is a link that might be useful: TP&W Article on Water

    Bookmark   July 1, 2011 at 11:39PM
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I'm not sure reservoirs are the best choice for a water supply. It's good for recreation and can generate revenue that way, but I heard a statistic a few years ago that something like 70-80% of water in reservoirs are lost to evaporation. There are other options being explored that are more efficient, like the artificial groundwater recharge project in the Edwards aquifer in Texas, but that's a long way from being feasible everywhere.

I've heard about the Texas/Oklahoma lawsuit, though it's been a few years since I've checked for an update on it. I think it's just the beginning, though, unfortunately. The water wars of the west are spreading eastward and populations grow and use more water. Add in the possibility of longer, more severe droughts due to climate change, and it doesn't look good.

McClain County lifted their burn ban, so anyone can shoot off fireworks now. We are still really dry here, so I hope people act responsibly. Even now at 11:30 I can hear someone shooting them off. It's going to be a long weekend!

    Bookmark   July 2, 2011 at 12:19AM
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Well, I'm going ahead with my show. Here in the Owasso area we have had more rain than most. We put on a huge display every year and a lot of people skip the displays in town and come to my place. My grass is still green, all the pastures have been hayed and are cut low, we have a few 500 gallon water tanks mounted to the back of the tractors with pumps and a water truck all filled up and sitting around the property. We're all set. We are scraping the bottle rockets this year. I remember in 2006 when we were super dry on the 4th, we went ahead with the show with no problems. I think we are as prepared as possible and probably more careful with how we do things than some folks.

So, if you are in Owasso, just look NE towards Collinsville on Monday night around 9:30 and enjoy.

Everyone have a safe and happy 4th


    Bookmark   July 2, 2011 at 8:34AM
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With our exceptional drought and the bad fires we continue to have I feel there really was no choice. This whole area has bans. The Liberal Kansas semi pro baseball team cancelled their fireworks display on account of it. But 2 counties have bans against popping them but not against selling them as I understand. One stand opened just outside of Guymon which has since closed. I'm pasting an article about it. The other one was still open just on the south side of the state line in Beaver County south of Liberal, KS. I witnessed people popping them just west of the stand Thursday evening as I drove by. Which makes it very dangerous. I'm praying we get through this weekend with no serious fires. Liberal has a ban also which includes possession. http://www.swdtimes.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5127:a-fourth-without-fireworks&catid=12:local-news&Itemid=40

I feel for those who depend on the sales for income. I have a coworker. His family started operating stands at least ten years ago with the profits going to a college fund for their kids. He has one son in college now. He usually made 6-10 thousand every year. I agree with the bans but can also see the hard ships it will bring to many who can't sell. Hopefully a year from now we will be green and this won't even be an issue. Last year due to the rain around us they allowed fire works and we had several fires. I have heard one pop in Elkhart. That was all. So someone must of stopped them quickly. Popping them in the country is so dangerous as the vegetation here overall is dead. Jay

Here is a link that might be useful: Guymon, OK stand shut down

    Bookmark   July 2, 2011 at 11:27AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Miraje, Reservoirs may not be the best method, but I assume when they chose that route in the 1950s, it was the best option available at that time. They are working a lot more on protecting the aquifers nowadays than they used to.

I heard McClain County had modified their burn ban to clarify that the responsible use of fireworks is permitted. If everyone did use them responsbily, no one would need a burn ban anyway.

Em, I hope y'all have fun and that everyone appreciates all the work you put into your show. Honestly, y'all aren't in a burn ban situation, so why shouldn't you have your big fireworks show? It also sounds like y'all take all the recommended precautions. Some of the folks here who do big family shows also have water trucks present. There's a responsible way to put on a fireworks show like y'all do....and then there's the way most people do it around here, which is that they sit in the mowed yard and shoot off fireworks over adjacent dry grasslands. We have lots of trouble with people like that starting fires even in an average year. I am hoping that the burn ban will make a big difference in how many fires we have to fight.

Jay, As long as your drought has gone on, and as dry as y'all are, anyone who sets off fireworks should be horsewhipped! I do feel bad for the vendors. The ones here in our county are not happy either, and a lot of them do it for their kids' college funds too. I feel worse for the folks in Carter County. At least in Love County, the ban was enacted Monday and was quickly publicized by local media so people knew about the ban. In Carter County, the ban was enacted on Friday, and by then a lot of residents already had bought their fireworks, and boy oh boy, are those folks angry! Then, the county and the Lake Murray folks got into a tiff over who would decide if the Lake Murray fireworks show would go on as scheduled. Since the lake is state land, y'all can guess how it ended---the Lake Murray Fireworks Show will be held as scheduled.

There's been too much drama in too many burn ban counties over the burn bans. The simple fact is that the county commissioners have an obligation to do what is best for the safety of the public. It's just that burn bans around Independence Day are not popular with the public, even when they know they're necessary because of the drought.


    Bookmark   July 2, 2011 at 3:21PM
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I'm sure you know more than I do. I was told by some citizens of one of the counties why they made a ban on popping them but didn't ban selling them. I was told a commissioner said they were advised by legal counsel there is more risk of an lawsuit if you ban the selling of them. Not sure if that is true. Just know Texas and Beaver counties are allowing the selling but not the popping. Here in SW KS neither is being allowed. Which is the way it should be in my opinion. And should of been last year. The county allowed them last year as 2/3 of the county had received rain. Those of us who didn't lived in fear of the fires and the volunteer fire fighters didn't sleep for 4-5 nights putting out fires started by them. Jay

    Bookmark   July 2, 2011 at 5:29PM
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Despite a firework ban in AZ, which the state took forever to act upon, we had fireworks going off nearby last night. Our pine trees and the pine straw that I'm still working on raking up for mulch is tinder dry. Just hoping somebody doesn't accidentally lob a firecracker over the fence as our backyard will go up in a nanosecond.
I can't imagine anyone would be crazy enough to want to shoot fireworks with as defy as our trees are right now, but I also know how few people really have common sense. Dreading how many new fires will start this weekend, between dry lightning and fireworks.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2011 at 7:00PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Tracy, We had fireworks all over the place on Saturday night, despite the burn ban.

On Sunday, we had six grassfires between about 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. because people were not obeying the burn ban. I guess all those grassfires got the attention of somebody because there were not nearly as many fireworks going off after dark. If a grassfire had ignited, with all the thousands of people who flock to the park to watch the show, it could have been a disaster.

This morning our firefighters were paged out to a grassfire about an hour ago, so I think it is going to be a very long day.

At Lake Murray, the state parks people finally cancelled the Fourth of July fireworks show yesterday afternoon. After engaging in a not-so-nice battle with Carter County, the state park people intended to go ahead and have their firework show despite the burn ban (as of Friday afternoon). Something happened to change their mind, and they say it was the weather forecast....but I didn't see a big change in the forecast. I think they were listening to fire scanners yesterday and decided they needed to make the right choice in terms of public safety.


    Bookmark   July 4, 2011 at 8:32AM
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I thought of this thread earlier when I read this article. Now that I saw it was at the top again I thought I would link it. My thoughts and prayers go out to all firefighters. I've had some tell me that have been volunteering for many years that this is the worst they have ever seen. Mainly because it has went on for so long. My sister got around an inch yesterday. Yes it formed over me and drove me out of the garden. Might of got 5 hundreths. It moved south into the OK Panhandle and they got the good rain. The lightning was bad here. Not sure how many fires it started. Once they go out you aren't sure if the next alarms are a new fire or just a call for more help. Jay

Here is a link that might be useful: Amarillo Firefighters

    Bookmark   July 4, 2011 at 8:51AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


What a horrible year they are having there. It seems so much worse than our worst ever drought/fire year here, which was 2005-2006. We went from about 40 calls the year before to about 200 during that time frame and we were a brand new tiny dept. without even a station (at the time we operated out of our then-chief's barn/shop) and we had wretchedly old bunker gear, radios and trucks. (Every volunteer dept. starts out that way, though, with hand-me-downs from other volunteer departments. Over time you build and grow and so we have.) Then, the next year we had 260 because the drought held into the summer months. I remember we had 5 fires on the 4th that year, and a few days later we had 6 fires in one day, and several of them were big. Since then, our call volume has dropped a lot because 2007 was wet, half of 2009 was wet, and portions of 2010 were moist if not exactly wet. Right now we are not nearly as dry as we have been in autumn in some bad drought/fire years, but we are having more and more calls as everything that greened up in May is now browning out. If significant rain doesn't fall, our autumn will be miserable.

I grew up in Texas and we always had periodic droughts, but nothing like what we've seen since 2005. It used to be you had a bad drought year, then 2 or 3 good years, then a bad drought year. Now, you're lucky if you have 1 whole good year in between the drought years....and I don't have to tell YOU that since you're in your 3rd (or 4th?) year of drought there.

We're having a special on fires today....get paged out to one fire, and then discover a second fire...so we'e fighting two for the price of one. : ) Seriously, it is too hot. I put coolers of drinks on every truck this morning and worried the ice would melt and the drinks wouldn't be cold when the pagers started going off. Turns out that wasn't a problem at all. They were running out on a fire less than an hour after I came home from the station. I'm glad I didn't wait any later than I did.

I'm afraid of what tonight will be like.


    Bookmark   July 4, 2011 at 3:46PM
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Yes it is. And it is every community. So every volunteer fire dept is wore out. I'm attaching another link. The paper for the 4th from the Liberal Leader which isn't online yet has some more about the selling of fireworks in the counties. It quotes the sheriff of Beaver county saying the county can ban the popping of fireworks and so can a town. But only the governor can ban the sale of fireworks in the county and the OK governor never did this year. I wonder why. Looks like a no brainer to me. The person running the stand sees nothing wrong with selling them. She said the people buying them know of the bans. Guess she thinks they will wait till it rains to pop them. I know better. While working in the garden last evening could hear someone popping them on the bypass about a half mile as the crow flies from my house. Let that grass catch fire and it will travel that half mile before the fire dept can do much. I saw some small burnt area but nothing of any size. So guess what did start at least someone got them out. People don't stop to think. I'm asked almost every week when I'm going to work on my greenhouse again. I said only when it rains enough for the fire danger to be lowered a bunch. After the scare I had this spring I know all too well how fast a fire can get out of control. And I had water and hoses close by. It isn't worth the risk for a few moments of fun or even to finish my greenhouse. The forest ranger in charge when the big fire took place has announced his retirement. I understand it might be a little earlier than he had planned. Jay

Here is a link that might be useful: Fireworks Ban in Liberal

    Bookmark   July 4, 2011 at 8:37PM
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The firemen didn't have time to completely dismantle from the display before they were off to put out fires from people who didn't obey the ban. Darn it!

    Bookmark   July 5, 2011 at 1:29AM
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My neighbor briefly set his front yard on fire last night from shooting off fireworks in his driveway. Thankfully there was hardly a puff of wind or else we might have had a problem. He just put out the three areas that were burning and kept shooting them off.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2011 at 10:24AM
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My neighbors set one of the empty lots on fire when it was breezy the other night. The firecracker went sideways instead of up. It landed in several spots and was too big to stomp out in less than a minute. Fortunately, I had insisted on buying about 500' of water hose for my yard and quite a few neighbors showed up with shovels to help. It got put out before the fire department showed up. My neighbors went back to shooting also. I couldn't believe it. The conditions weren't right for shooting to begin with.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2011 at 11:05AM
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I grew up country and when I first moved to the city, thought the ban was absurd. stupid city officials just trying to take away the kids' fun. but the longer I live here, the more I see the wisdom in it. last night I watched some idiots throw a pack of black cats at a car stalled in traffic. they went off, bouncing underneath the car at one point, and the poor driver was unable to move because of the other cars. my neighbors boys have been shooting them since Sat, and tonight I think they tossed 1 or 2 on my front porch. at least that's where it sounded like it was coming from, I'll find out tomorrow. even without a ban on them here, I still think you should at least be required to get a permit.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 12:25AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Last night while I was out working in the garden before sunset, two or three departments a few miles west of us were dispatched to a grassfire that was caused by fireworks. I didn't hear the call when they dispatched it...I might have been over at the chicken coop locking it up for the night....but I could tell from the stress in their voices that they were racing to get to the fire before it could reach the house. They did it. They did make a special point of telling the dispatcher to write down on the call log that the fire was started by fireworks. I notice they've been doing that all week. I think they want "the powers that be" to understand just how many fires are being started by fireworks even though we do have a burn ban.

Yesterday our county commissioners extended our burn ban for another 30 days. Hallelujah! And, in a move I'm not sure they've ever made before, they denied a local charitable/research foundation (one that is greatly admired and respected worldwide) a permit to conduct a prescribed burn. Under Oklahoma law, county commissioners can grant such prescribed burn permits even during burn bans, provided certain conditions are met, and that includes paying firefighers (via a donation to their department) to be on the property during the burn and also they have to agree that if the fire escapes the property and additional firefighters are called to fight it, those departments will be reimbursed for their expenses at FEMA hourly rates. Usually our county commissioners approve the prescribed burn permits for this foundation because it always follows all the rules and rarely if ever has a fire escape from their control. The fact that our commissioners said 'no' to them is a humongous big deal and caught the attention of all the fire departments. I just take it as a sign that our commissioners are as concerned as the rest of us about how dry it is here, and we are not nearly as dry as pretty much everyone else west of I-35.

I've linked the upated burn ban page. Yesterday afternoon, when I checked it, there were quite a few more counties that either have enacted a burn ban this week or who have extended an existing ban. I think that currently 46 of our 77 counties have burn bans.


Here is a link that might be useful: Burn Ban Page from OFS Website

    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 10:08AM
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My display went off without a hitch. Thankfully. Now on Saturday night before the 4th, we set off a few fountains in the front yard and low and behold, caught the grass on fire! I was shocked. My grass is still mostly green, but the stuff underneath was soooo dry, much dryer than I realized. I have had my sprinkler system set to go off 2 times a week and water each station for 8 minutes for over a month now. That little grass fire about as big as a dinner plate was a wakeup call. I upped each station to 15 minutes and watered R times on Sunday and 2 times Monday before the show. Husband used the water truck and doused everything real good in the field where he sets them off before the show.

So, the extra watering saved the day, we never even saw a spark on the ground, and after the show he wet everything down again.

I'm glad we set those fountains off Saturday night or I would ave mistakenly thought since the grass LOOKED green, I was ok. I was wrong!

Hope everyone had a safe and happy 4th.


    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 11:11AM
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