Pottawatomie County Commissioner Jerry Richards on Monday said he wanted to enact a county-declared burn ban, but it appears the state's criteria for a burn ban declaration haven't been met.
Following extreme drought conditions and fires that prompted both local and Governor's burn bans over the summer, Pottawatomie County commissioners have a standing agenda item each week to discuss a burn ban, just in case.
Monday, Shawnee/Pottawatomie County Emergency Management Director Don Lynch informed commissioners no action was needed this week based on conditions and a polling of the county's 12 fire chiefs.
But Richards spoke up and said he feels a ban is needed.
"I just think we need to put the burn ban on immediately," Richards said. "We're just asking for it."
While Lynch said it's "very dry" and we're still in a drought, he said residents have been cautious so there's been no out-of-control fires.
But Richards said, "It just takes one."
Discussion followed as Commissioner Melissa Dennis questioned if they could put the burn ban on whether or not the county meets the state's defined criteria. Assistant District Attorney Tracy McDaniel, the board's legal counsel, took a few minutes to research the statute and reported all four criteria set by state statues have to be met.
Those include being in a moderate to severe drought, there being no more than one-half inch of rain in the forecast, firefighters having unsuccessful efforts on initial grass fire attacks and more than 20 percent of wildfires being caused by escaped debris.
"Unless you find all four, you cannot," enact the ban, McDaniel told the commission. Discussion indicated there's probably two of them here met as of Monday, so the board took no action.
"Let it be stated that we tried," Richards said. "If we burn up, we tried."
And while there was concern about the conditions Monday, Tecumseh's fire chief said based on conditions he's seeing, he doesn't feel the ban is needed at this point.
"There's no reason why we should be in a burn ban right now," Williams said. "We don't meet the criteria — there's no reason to burden people who live out in the county."
Williams based his reasoning on the fact that he couldn't remember the last time Tecumseh firefighters were dispatched to a grass fire. He said the city, on average, issues two to three burn permits each week, and they've seen no problems with those who are burning.
While he understands the commissioners are looking out for citizens, Williams said he'd be disappointed if they enact a ban too soon.
"Citizens are doing something right — that speaks for itself," Williams said, although he reminds people that they need to be cautious.
Page 2 of 2 - "We are in a stage of dormant grass…and it's not going to green up til spring," he added.
Bethel Fire Chief Richelle Treece said they've have a few grass fires in that area, but none were major.
"It's dry, that's for sure," she said, adding it's not the same level as the problems that warranted burn bans this past summer.
"It's a happy medium between keeping us all safe and tying the hands of people wanting to get things done," Treece said.
Shawnee Fire Chief David Short said there hasn't been any significant grass fires recently in the Shawnee response area other than dump fires, although he said conditions remain extremely dry.
"We're not at a panic situation yet," he said.
Short said he believes the massive fires around the state earlier this year prompted more education and awareness.
"People have become more aware," Short said, but added everyone should "be extremely careful when burning."
The fire chiefs said if people do decide to conduct a controlled burn, they need to make sure weather conditions allow it on that particular day. It's also imperative they call the fire department in their area to report a controlled burn so if 911 calls start coming in, dispatchers will know where controlled burns are being conducted.
As of Monday, there are currently no burn bans in any of the state's 77 counties.