Keystone Fire Chief Surveys Wildfires From SkyNews6

Wednesday, April 6th 2011, 12:56 pm
By: News On 6 & Emory Bryan, News On 6

CREEK COUNTY -- Keystone Volunteer Fire Department Honorary Fire Chief George Blackburn requested a flyover with SkyNews6 to get an overhead view of the wildfires burning in Creek and Tulsa counties on Wednesday morning.

At least three fires are burning South of Keystone Lake, near 161 West Avenue in Tulsa County. One rock walled home burned near 3600 S. Campbell Creek Road in Sand Springs, and a trailer burned near 6288 S Merrimac Drive. 

Another fire was reported near 5730 Creek Nation Drive.

Blackburn said 12-15 crews worked overnight Tuesday into Wednesday morning. He estimated by the times the fires are out, 8,000 to 10,000 acres will have burned.

"Our people are just expended physically, absolutely," he said.

Blackburn was able to communicate with crews on the ground as he surveyed the fires threatening homes and property south of Keystone Lake.

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Blackburn said some of the fires might have been set by ranchers, who assumed an agricultural exemption for outdoor burning would apply.

Fire Chiefs can grant an exemption from the burn ban for ranchers, but "we had some of the paperwork brought to us, and I think people thought we would automatically sign it, but we never have. That paperwork is still sitting unsigned on the Chief's desk," he said.

Blackburn said there could be legal action taken against some of the people who burned during an active burn ban.

"The problem we have is, it doesn't look like much from the air, but we're in grass and field that's probably three or four feet tall," he told SkyNews6 pilot Will Kavanagh.

Blackburn was the active chief for a number of years before turning the position over to his son. He continues to serve as honorary chief, fire captain and safety officer.

The Oklahoma Army National Guard was called in for air support.

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They spent the day lifting massive buckets of water out of nearby farm ponds so they could drop it on the fire.  The air drops helped firefighters stop the advance, even in the rocky hills where it's most difficult to get around.

Firefighters had a few setbacks during the night, like a trailer that burned, but many more homes were saved.

No one was hurt, but firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation and exhaustion, while expecting another long night.