Rural Fire Departments Feel Heat In Oklahoma Wildfire Season
TURLEY, Oklahoma - Many of the firefighters battling the state’s wildfires are volunteers.
The fires are putting a strain on first responders and rural departments.
Firefighters battled flames in Turley most of the day Saturday, after days of fires igniting across the state.
The Limestone Fire Department was one of those helping battle the blaze. Chief Carl Smith says firefighters suffer first hand the effects wildfires have on rural departments.
"They're usually smaller departments; they usually don't have the necessary funding, and they certainly don't have the equipment that they need to have to handle these large fires,” Smith said. “So it means that they have to call in mutual aid to assist them."
Fighting out-of-control wildfires, like the ones plaguing the state since Thursday, takes a huge toll on firefighters.
The Saturday flareup in Turley alone sent one firefighter to be treated for smoke inhalation and damaged several trucks.
“The guys were telling me about one agency lost a tire,” Smith said. “It hit a pipe sticking up out of the bushes and they ran over it and destroyed a tire."
And one of those tires could run up to $200 dollars a pop.
Limestone is a Title 19 department--which means it is part of a fire protection district that serving 57 square miles in between Owasso and Claremore.
"Well Title 19 under Oklahoma law means that each property owner pays an assessment, a millage levy according to what their property is worth, and that money goes directly to the fire department,” Smith said. “And it means I know exactly what kind of funding I'm going to have each year."
And they're the lucky ones. Most smaller rural departments aren’t Title 19. They are forced raise money on their own through donations, bake sales and fish frys.
And that type of funding often doesn't cut it when it comes to getting the equipment and support needed, especially in times when rural fire departments are the ones on the front lines.
The chief says Limestone is doing OK, finally recovering from a busy week and standing by for the next call as the high fire danger continues.
“We'll persevere,” Smith said. “We'll make it."