Freedom Hill Fire Department Recovering From 2012 Wildfires
MANNFORD, Oklahoma - Nearly 60,000 acres, more than 400 homes and thousands of lives were changed forever.
Those numbers would have been much higher had it not been for the help of rural fire departments during last August's wildfires in Creek County. Dozens of fire departments, volunteer departments and relief organizations helped to fight the devastating blaze.
A year later, one battered department is recovering.
It was a slow Sunday afternoon at the Freedom Hill Fire Department, and that's just fine with Capt. Carolyn Smythe.
"It was a relief to just be normal this year," she said.
Smythe says a year ago, she was the first one to get a call about the fire.
The blaze was controlled by the ever-changing Oklahoma winds and engulfed the landscape - at times covering a mile every 15 minutes.
For the 16 volunteer firefighters at that department, the anniversary of the endless battle on little to no sleep and triple-digit heat is still fresh in their minds.
"Even though we've had all the rain, I think it's just reliving here it is," Smythe said.
The fire took a toll on their equipment, too. Old trucks were pushed to the limit. One was lost, and a $4,000 budget was burned through in no time.
"That doesn't stretch very far when you go, ‘oh my, the fire lasts for four days,'" Smythe said.
But almost as fast as the first call went out, the help started coming in.
Along with things like food, water, shovels and gloves, Smythe estimates they've received close to $30,000 in cash donations.
"We [didn't] have that money in years here … and it has all been spent to something they can tangibly see," Smythe said.
The pumps and tanks on the trucks were upgraded, a newer model grass rig was purchased and another given to them.
They even began work on an additional building with funds from the state.
"Everyday somebody calls and says, ‘Is there something I can do for somebody?'" Smythe said.
Smythe says the help is still coming in, but most of it will go to the residents as they continue the long road to recovery.
"That house on the corner that you're pulling up to means something," because it belonged to people who called it home, she said.