OTTAWA COUNTY- Ottawa and Delaware County firefighters headed to the state's panhandle on Wednesday to help assist with one of the region's largest wildfires in recent history-the Northwest Oklahoma Complex Fire.
The wildfires began Monday, but the initial cause of the blaze is still under investigation, said Oklahoma Foresty Services Personal Information Officer, Luke Kanclerz.
“As of this morning (Thursday), containment was at about 10 percent,” said Kanclerz. “The hope is that will increase through this evening.”
On Tuesday, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency in 22 counties due to ongoing wildfires and critical fire weather conditions.
The counties included in Fallin's declaration are: Alfalfa, Beaver, Blaine, Cimarron, Custer, Dewey, Ellis, Garfield, Grant, Harper, Kay, Kingfisher, Logan, Major, Noble, Osage, Payne, Pawnee, Roger Mills, Texas, Woods and Woodward.
The executive order allows state agencies to make emergency purchases needed to deliver necessary resources to local jurisdictions and is the first step toward possibly seeking federal assistance, the governor's press release said. The order is in effect for 30 days and can be amended to include additional counties, if necessary.
“The wildfires are not actively spreading,” said Kanclerz. “Currently, it is over 833,000 acres with the largest being Starbuck at 715,000 acres.”
Oklahoma Forestry Services (OFS) reported Wednesday that the Northwest Oklahoma Complex Fire consists of three separate fires in Beaver, Harper and Woodward Counties, which has burned over 800,000 acres across Oklahoma and Kansas, with significant loss of property and livestock.
Chris Wilkens, training officer for Quapaw Tribe Fire/EMS, said the Northeast Wildland Task Force is a coordinated effort between both Ottawa and Delaware Counties. According to Wilkens, the fire departments/personnel who are participating are Quapaw Tribe, Wyandotte, Fairland, Grove Fire, Bernice Fire and Hickory Grove.
The NE Wildland Task Force deployed for their mission at approximately 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“Some total of 25 people from both counties are currently out there (as of 3 p.m. Thursday),” Wilkens said. “The reason we use resources from both counties is so it doesn't overtax one county versus the other. There are more people who want to go than get the opportunity. We've already gotten phone calls from those who can go.
"Wednesday, we got a phone call at 15:30 hours (3:30 p.m.) saying, 'We need you. Can you come?' Right at 5:30 p.m., most of them had assembled at Buffalo Ranch and were on the road shortly thereafter," he added. "There was a lot to do within two hours.”
The task force is driving about five hours west to reach their destination(s). Backup personnel will be deployed based upon necessity, and the duration of the current crew will be active for no longer than 48 hours.
“They're staged in Woodward at the fairgrounds and they get deployed to different areas,” Wilkens said. “Our task force will be gone for 48 hours and then they rotate people. The decision hasn't been made whether they're going to stay tonight or come home tonight, or work tomorrow and then rotate out. It's based upon need.”
Wilkens said the departments have to be very judicious with the number of personnel that is sent over because it is currently fire season. As of 3 p.m. Thursday, the fire dangers out west remain high while NE Oklahoma remains at a moderate level.
The NE Wildland Task Force from both counties are equipped with six Type VI Brush Units, one 2,000 gallon water Tender, two Command and one All Terrain Vehicle with a sliding unit with 70 gallons.
Numerous Oklahoma Forestry Services resources remain committed to the Northwest Oklahoma Complex wildfires. Resources include Overhead, Type 6 Engines, Bulldozers, Fixed-wing and Rotor-wing aircraft.
The following information was provided by the Oklahoma Forestry Services on Thursday:
Starbuck (Beaver and Harper County) - 715,484 acres total in Oklahoma and Kansas, 10 percent containment. Near the Oklahoma communities of Buffalo, Knowles, Gate, Rosston, and Laverne. Numerous residences, secondary structures, livestock and other infrastructure lost. Damage assessments are on-going. Numerous communities remain threatened. Limited fire growth occurred Wednesday.
Selman (Harper and Woodward County) – 47,289 acres, 10 percent containment located approximately 10 miles north of Woodward. No estimate on residences or secondary structures lost. Damage assessments are on-going. Numerous residences remain threatened. No fire growth occurred Wednesday.
283 Fire (Harper County) – 71,168 acres, 10 percent containment near the communities of Rosston, Laverne, and May. Damage assessments are on-going. Numerous communities remain threatened. Limited fire growth occurred Wednesday.
“There has been one new reported fatality in the 283 fire in Harper County,” said Kanclerz.
Additional details were not available concerning the Harper fatality as of presstime.
American Red Cross, Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief and the Salvation Army are providing meals, snacks and hydration for first responders in all affected northwest Oklahoma counties, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health is also providing three eye wash stations for first responders.
Due to current conditions, OFS is urging firefighters and the public to prepare for the possibility of an increase in the number and severity of wildfires.
“We are urging citizens to stay vigilant, even in areas where it appears smoke has cleared,” said Kanclerz.
How to help
Oklahoma Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) offers the following tips:
When disaster strikes, the best way to support survivors of emergencies or disasters in Oklahoma is with cash donations to reputable voluntary organizations. Cash donations allow relief organizations or survivors to purchase what they need, when and where they need it. Buying supplies locally helps the local community recover by helping local businesses pay salaries and by keeping tax revenues in the community.
Do not send unsolicited donations of used clothing, miscellaneous items or perishable foods, which must be sorted, warehoused, transported and distributed. This requires more efforts and staffing to manage those resources and takes away from recovery efforts. If you must donate in-kind goods, make certain that they are specifically requested and needed by recognized organizations.
Fire Relief Fund
A relief fund has been established by the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation (OCF) to help Beaver, Ellis, Harper and Woodward County Cattlemen who have been affected by recent wildfires in the area.
If you would like to donate to this relief effort, you can do so by mail or online. Make checks payable to Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation and put “Fire Relief” in the memo line and send to P.O. Box 82395., Oklahoma City, OK 73148. To donate online, visit www.okcattlemen.org.
If you would like to donate hay or trucking services for hay, you can do so by contacting either the Harper County Extension Office at 580-735-2252 or Buffalo Feeders at 580-727-5530 to make arrangements or provide trucking services.
For Oklahoma residents seeking non-emergency disaster or health and human service information, please contact your local 2-1-1. Services are available 24 hours a day by dialing 2-1-1 from your home or cellular telephone. Please only call 911 for emergencies.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.