Exhausted Oklahoma Firefighters Warn Of Severe Wildfire Risk

Wednesday, March 16th 2011, 4:13 pm
By: News On 6

Craig Day, News On 6

MORRIS, Oklahoma -- Many firefighters are worried we could see more fires like we saw last week in many parts of Oklahoma.

Those fires destroyed homes, wore out equipment and exhausted volunteers.  In Okmulgee County, a burn ban is in place and firefighters say anyone thinking about burning shouldn't take that chance.

When the weather forecast calls for warm and windy conditions this time of year, firefighters like Tim Stewart get an uneasy feeling.

"I do, I get nervous," said Morris Assistant Fire Chief Tim Stewart.

The Morris assistant fire chief says over the last few days, volunteer firefighters statewide have been getting a much needed break. But, there isn't much down time when a few days ago fires burned all over the state. Now it could happen again over the next few days.

"You get back to the station you have to clean items, repair items, and get them ready to go again," Stewart said.

It's hard on equipment and hard on volunteer firefighters.

"We're in it all for the same reasons: we want to help, but it wears you down," the assistant Morris fire chief said.

Morris firefighters battled a fire Friday that burned 800 acres.

"Friday kind of blew up on us," Tim Stewart said.

Okmulgee County is one of 33 Counties in Oklahoma where burn bans are in place. The Morris area got rain Sunday, but it's not enough to do much good, and Stewart fears it may give people wanting to burn a false sense of security.

"The moisture in that vegetation is not there. Even though there are puddles, and it's muddy and everything, it can still burn and it will still burn," said Morris Assistant Fire Chief Tim Stewart.

That's what firefighters fear. That people won't heed the burn ban and if they don't, a fire fueled by dry vegetation and pushed by the wind will get out of hand.

"It can go instantly," Stewart said - creating more danger, and threatening property and possibly lives.

"It just takes so little for the grass to ignite right now; we just can't have anybody burning anything," Stewart said.

Stewart compares this dry stretch and fire season to 2005, which was terrible. He says the saving grace this year is that we're a lot closer to the green up.

But for the next few weeks, wildfires will still be a dangerous threat.