Supply Shortage Could Worsen Oklahoma's Wildfire Season

Wednesday, December 13th 2017, 10:39 pm

As we face a dangerous fire season, Oklahoma Forestry Services is dealing with a manpower and equipment shortage.

They're responding to between 10 and 20 wildfires every day, but they're worried about running out of support this fire season.

Volunteer departments rely on help from state forestry firefighters when things get bad.

But that help might not come to fires that spark in Vera or other rural areas because of budget cuts and lack of resources.

Manpower and bulldozers are things volunteer departments need, but often don't have when fighting wildfires.

"I'm afraid we're going to get into a lot of that this year. We're going to be in a lot of heavy, brush area," said Todd Owens, Owens and Company fire chief.

"The budget has been cut drastically at every level. And we would like to have more volunteer firefighters but the budget doesn't allow it as far as workers' compensation, the gear," Owens said.

Budget cuts are also crushing their main support line — Oklahoma Forestry Services.

They already have crews from other states on standby.

"Today I had calls from guys who said 'Hey, we're ready, willing and able to come down and help you if things start to get bad,'" said Chief Mark Goeller.

Goeller said Oklahoma's wildfire season is three to five weeks ahead of schedule with no relief in sight.

"The fact that we could have large fires going on in northwest Oklahoma and the same thing start to occur in eastern Oklahoma. And so that's going to stretch us," Goeller said.

That means Owens and Company crews might be on their own — a department that already runs calls with just one man per truck.

"The first hour is a major issue for us. If we can get in on it, and get it under control within an hour, we're good," Owens said.

Oklahoma Forestry Services said about 25 percent of their equipment is on life support, so that also impacts their ability to send help, too.

The chief said they'll likely call the Cherokee Nation for help if needed.