Burn ban puts damper on fish fry

Friday, September 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The South Grand Lake Area Chamber of Commerce had a dilemma on its hand Friday: More than 1,000 pounds of catfish bought and paid for and nowhere to cook it.

Organizers of the chamber's seventh annual Hook-N-Cookoff fund-raiser were thrown for a loop when Gov. Frank Keating expanded the state's burn ban Thursday to include all charcoal and gas grilling. Outdoor fish fryers, which run on propane, were included in the ban.

"We just rained on their parade," said Jack Carson, spokesman with the state Agriculture Department. He said state officials have been working with the chamber to find a solution. "Obviously, we don't want to ruin their fund-raiser."

The ban will prevent the cooking contest from taking place Saturday at the Langley city park where other events are scheduled.

But organizers were considering several options -- moving the 11 cooking teams into residential garages or a nearby fire station were two possibilities.

"You can't refreeze the fish," said Barbara Conner, the chamber's executive director. "Five-thousand dollars will just be gone."

Comparatively, she said, the problem the chamber faced paled in comparison to what prompted the ban.

"We have homes in the state that are no longer there because of the fires," she said. "We totally understand.

"We'll come up with something."

Some parts of Oklahoma haven't seen rain well over 50 days, which combined with high temperatures and low humidities has turned much of the state's groundcover into kindling.

Firefighters battled more than 100 fires in the state this week.

Officials estimated that more than 100,000 acres had been burned in the fires.

While federal and state officials were begin to show optimism by the end of the week that they had a handle on the most major of the wildfires, weather forecasters were predicting little possibility that enough rain would fall soon to end the drought and the extreme fire danger.

Authorities quickly began pleading with Oklahomans to abide by the burn ban's rules.

Law enforcement agencies in the state said officers were not necessarily out looking for smokers who throw cigarettes from their car windows. But they suggested it would be unwise to get caught doing so.

"Let me put it this way," said Lt. Chris West, spokesman with the Highway Patrol. "Considering how dry everything is right now, considering how long it's been since we have had rain, considering how many fires we've had, considering how many homes have been lost...chances are pretty great that you're going to get a ticket."

Oklahoma City police spokeswoman Sgt. Cris Cunningham said Friday that two citations had been issued to motorists discarding cigarettes out of their car windows. Cunningham said one driver told officers he thought it was OK to toss the cigarette because there was no grass nearby.

He was wrong.

So was the Oklahoma City resident who told an officer he had everything under control when the officer found him holding a garden hose near a 5-foot burn pit in a well-treed area with flames jumping 3 feet into the air. That was within a day or two of a rash of huge fires breaking out throughout the state.

"Most people will be concerned enough about their property that they won't do that," Cunningham said. But, she said, citations may be in the future for those who are not.

The expanded ban also was expected to put a damper on tailgate parties at football games for Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Tulsa.

The ban could also have an impact on activities at state parks.

State officials cautioned against using any item that had the potential to ignite a fire -- for example, propane lanterns.

Carson said the burn ban did not include such lanterns.

"However," he said, "it is important for someone to realize that if they go camping, and they have a Coleman lantern and they hang that thing up and it falls and causes a fire, they are liable for any damages that it causes and the cost of putting out the fire.

"So, it might not be the wisest thing to do. But you will not be ticketed for (having one)," he said.