USA — Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel issued a stern warning to those contemplating burning during a burn ban.
“My goal today is to emphasize to all citizens how extreme this wildfire situation is and to underscore that whoever burns during these burn bans, whether it’s by burning leaves, trash or throwing a lit cigarette butt on the ground or out the window, will be arrested,” Whetsel said.
The Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office said it charged three people in violation of a burn ban on Monday.
On March 2, Newalla firefighters extinguished a burning pile of leaves before it spread, Whetsel said. The person told police he was unaware of the ban.
Then on March 6 in Harrah crews put out a 3-acre grass fire that began from a trash fire, Whetsel said. Crews were told that the resident knew about the burn ban but burned anyway.
The Hickory Hills Fire Department said it extinguished a trash fire on March 14. The resident admitted to police, Whetsel said, that he knew about the ban and was warned by police not to burn, but burned regardless.
Charles Lee Seiss, 53, of Harrah, Thomas Schroeder, 58, of Newalla, and Rogelio Carrisal, 42, of Luther, were formally charged with violation of the emergency drought conditions statute.
Schroeder said he knows what he did was wrong but that he never intended to start a wildfire.
“I thought I could contain it and it’d be OK but it got away from me,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder said he understands the risk and wishes he would have made a different choice. Now he’s facing a large fine, jail time and may have to hire a lawyer.
Schroeder has pleaded not guilty.
If convicted, the suspects face a fine up to $500 and a year in jail.
Deputies said they are working one additional case to be presented to the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office.
Whetsel said on April 9, Hickory Hills fire crews put out a grass fire that was started by a 15-year-old lighting fireworks. The juvenile’s case is pending.
The burn ban comes amid extremely dry conditions as residents and farmers battle a drought in much of the state. Two major wildfires broke out in the past week.
Oklahoma County’s burn ban is set to expire Thursday. Commissioners are set to vote on an extension regarding the burn ban on Wednesday.
In the past two years, Oklahoma has seen a rash of wildfires and at least 110 homes have been destroyed.
“It is not just a structural loss but also the emotional toll on citizens when a home burns or when a pet is lost,” Whetsel said.