On Saturday afternoon, firefighters and other first responders from across the region received Governor’s Citation Awards for their service during the wildfires that struck Woodward and Dewey counties in April.
The fire in Woodward County burned an estimated 67,778 acres of land and 35 family homes. The Dewey County fire burned 283,085 acres and 50 homes, which would have been far more devastating without the efforts of effective first responders.
The group recognized Saturday all worked as part of the Ratliff City Task Force, a multidisciplinary response group consisting of fire, medical, and law enforcement personnel. After being contacted by Carter County Emergency Management about both fires, the Ratliff City Task Force made requests for equipment and personnel to assemble teams.
The task force for the Woodward County fire deployed April 13 and consisted of ten Carter County emergency response agencies, eight fire departments, one police department and one emergency medical response unit. The task force was activated for approximately 29 hours with 12 hours of time on the fire lines.
The task force for the Dewey County fire deployed April 19 and also consisted of ten Carter County agencies, eight fire departments, one police department and one emergency medical response unit. They were activated for 51 hours with 24 hours on the fire scene and fire lines.
Ratliff City Chief of Police Robert Thornton acts as task force manager and talked about his position during the assembly.
“I’ve had the honor and the opportunity, and I’ve had the distinct pleasure of serving you all as task force manager,” Thornton said. “I could not have done that job without you all.
He went on to praise the Carter County fire departments for their willingness to assist with the two projects.
“There are 16 fire departments in Carter County,” he said. “Fourteen of those were represented in the Ratliff City Task Force in April.”
Ranson Lee, a five-year member of the Springer Volunteer Fire Department, described his experience working on the Dewey County Fire.
“Words can’t explain it,” Lee said. “You go into a whole different world. You go from lush green forests to Mars basically. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
He went on to say that his time working such a massive fire provided a valuable learning experience for a small town firefighter who typically deals with smaller grass and structure fires.
“I’d go back and do it again. No ifs, ands or buts,” he said.
Elizabeth Wheeler of the Dickson Volunteer Fire Department worked both fires. A transplant to the area, Wheeler received her fire training in West Virginia and has been volunteering at Dickson for the past year.
“The first night we arrived it was structure prevention and just containment,” Wheeler said. “When we arrived there was zero containment.”
When asked if she ever felt any fear for her own safety, she quickly said no.
“I had a great crew. We all work well together. We all have each other’s backs. When you’re up there you focus on one thing only, and that’s to do your job.”