Wildfires Burn Up Budgets For Rural Oklahoma Fire Departments

Friday, April 8th 2011, 3:04 pm
By: News On 6

Craig Day, News On 6

CREEK COUNTY, Oklahoma -- Not only is this year's wildfire season a dangerous one, it's also an expensive season. Many rural fire departments are strapped for cash after week after week of fighting fires.

At the Freedom Hill Fire Station in Creek County, Carolyn Smythe is paying the volunteer district's bills, like the one for fuel.

Lately, several of those bills are sky high. With such a severe fire season, meeting expenses on a small budget is getting more difficult.

"Very expensive," she said.

As fires burn across the Oklahoma countryside, many volunteer fire departments in the state, like Freedom Hill, are burning through their funds.

"We don't have a lot of time for extra fundraising, because we're fighting fires,"Smythe said.

Not far away in the Keystone Fire District, it's the same story.

"In extreme need of some extra funding. On the volunteer fire side there's not a lot of funding there," Chris Blackburn, Keystone Fire Chief, said.

4/6/2011 Related Story: Keystone Fire Chief Surveys Wildfires From SkyNews6

People have stepped forward to donate bottled water and food. Linda Champ knew funds would likely be tight right now, so she dropped off a check.

Craig Day, News On 6: "You just wanted to make a difference?
Linda Champ: "Absolutely. With gas prices and everything, I figured particularly now, as busy as they've been recently. I figured a few extra bucks wouldn't hurt."

Volunteer districts are funded through a combination of annual subscriptions, donations, fundraisers and a little bit of help from the state. That's usually enough on a normal year. But this isn't a normal fire season.

Smythe says help is needed across the state.

"Money. That sounds so horrible, but money," she said. "We have a lot of volunteers, but money is the problem right now."

Linda Champ hopes her donation makes a difference and encourages others to lend a helping hand too.

"I hope so, yes," she said. "Because clearly we have a problem with the dry weather and everything. I think they're going to be needed more than ever."

The small amount of help volunteer departments get from the state each year got smaller this year because of Oklahoma's state budget crunch.  Freedom Hill, for example, got about 20 percent less in state funds this year.

4/6/2011 Related Story: Firefighters, Neighbors Help Save Family's Home Near Mannford