High Winds, Extreme Heat Plague Green Country Crews Battling Wildfires

Monday, August 8th 2011, 4:54 pm
By: News On 6

Dan Bewley, News On 6

SAND SPRINGS, Oklahoma -- The men and women fighting Green Country wildfires face a number of challenges: the quick moving flames, the wind, and, of course, the extreme heat.

Sand Springs Fire Chief Mike Wood says it's been non-stop for more than a week. His crews have battled grass fires and house fires, all of it in the middle of an historic heat wave.

8/7/2011 Related Story: Sand Springs Fire Crews Douse Intentionally Set Hay Bale Fire

"As long as you keep sweating you're okay, when you stop sweating you're in bad shape," Larry Branson, a firefighter, said.

Just to give you an idea of some of the temperatures these guys are facing, it's about 30-degrees warmer inside their suit than the temperature outside. So if it's 110 degrees outside, it's about 140 degrees inside and that doesn't even count the heat from the flames that may be just feet away.

The key, they say, is to stay hydrated. They drink a lot water or Gatorade and they started drinking it weeks before the intense heat set in.

They also take a lot of breaks. For Sand Springs, that means resting in the cab of air conditioned fire trucks.

When they take those breaks, officials say, they give the firefighters the once over, double checking to see how their body is doing under the stress.

"We talk to them, we make sure that they're coherent, that they're sweating, and that somebody's home behind the eyes," Chief Dannie Whitehouse, with the Sapulpa Fire Department, said.

The goal is to be ready before the fire starts and to make sure each firefighter knows when they need to be pulled from the fire line.

"We try not to get to that point," Branson said.  "We try to talk to our officers and let them know how we're feeling because if we get to that point we're not doing anybody any good."

Chief Wood in Sand Springs says the larger departments are more equipped to handle the weather so he encourages anyone to support the small, volunteer departments. He says those departments always appreciate donations of bottled water.