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What does it take to issue a burn ban? State forestry officials discuss burn ban criteria

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OKLAHOMA - January isn't over yet but forestry officials say Oklahoma has already seen nearly 100 wildfires and more than 7,000 acres burned.

Before sparks lit up the ground in Tuttle, Edmond and Guthrie -- News Channel 4 meteorologists warned of the potential danger.

But without official burn bans in place, some incinerated trash and carelessly tossed out cigarettes that weren't put out.

Many Oklahomans wanted to know why burn bans aren't automatically issued whenever the earth is dry and the winds are high.

NewsChannel4 sat down with State Forester Director George Geissler. We first asked if it cost anything to issue the bans sooner.

"There is no direct cost by putting on a burn ban. But there could be cost is in the long-term," Geissler said. "Without getting some of the prescribed fires finished the fuels like grass and shrubbery build up.

It could be more expensive to do later if the opportunity is missed."

Without losing millions, NewsChannel4 also wanted to find out if anyone is negatively affected by instituting burn bans.

Geissler said, "There are some legitimate uses for prescribed fires. Agriculture utilizes it extensively, forestry uses it extensively. So what we are trying to do is allow those beneficial uses of fire to occur and not be prohibited by a burn ban. Those fires are actually done by professionals who know what they are doing."

Instead of making certain industries suffer during smaller threats, officials said there are stages the state has deemed more appropriate.

The first is a red flag warning.

"What we are trying to do through the use of a red flag warning is to essentially let people know whether or not things are that bad today," Giessler said.
A County wide burn ban is the next step.

The National Weather Service must first determine the county is under a severe drought. The second criteria is, no prediction of at least a half-inch of rain in the coming days.

The last is if 20 percent of the fires are cause debris burns or there is significant wildfire danger. County bans normally last between 7-30 days.

The governor's burn ban include the same guidelines but it factors in the amount of fuel on the ground and soil moisture as well.

Giessler said, "Burn bans are there as a reaction to the fact that the numbers of fires are getting out of hand," not necessarily a fire prevention method.