Volunteer firefighters work multiple grass fires spanning hundreds of acres over holiday

Sierra Rains
Smoke turns the sky orange during a grass fire that broke out near Crinnerville Road in southern Carter County on Dec. 24.

When duty calls, volunteer firefighters rush to the scene. For many, that call came during Christmas this year. 

Several local volunteer fire departments spent several hours battling large grass fires for two days beginning on Dec. 24. Criner Hills Volunteer Fire Department Chief Charles Campbell said two grass fires that broke out in southern Carter County on Christmas Eve spread over hundreds of acres. 

Winds of around 30 to 40 mph caused damage to power lines near the Brock Oil Field off of Crinnerville Road. When damage to power lines occurs, it can result in arcing or "power flashes", which are able to melt or burn any material they contact, including metal. Firefighters believe this was the cause of both fires on Christmas Eve. 

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol blocks southbound traffic on Crinnerville Road near Buck Skin Road Thursday, Dec. 24. with thick smoke in the distance.

The first fire began overnight on the west side of the road, and another sparked up right across the street some time later. Flames reportedly reached up to 30 feet in the air and Campbell said high winds can make fighting grass fires more difficult.

Firefighters had to evacuate several houses in the area, but thanks to the teamwork of several area volunteer departments no structures or lives were lost. 

“There were several houses there and we kept it from getting into the houses. One of them burnt right up to the guy’s foundation of his house before we got it to stop,” Campbell said. “My guys did a really good job of keeping it away from the houses and everything. You just have to be careful — if you’re home and it’s coming towards your house, get away from it.” 

The Criner Hills Volunteer Fire Department, along with several other Love County departments, also spent part of Christmas Day fighting another grass fire north of Marietta. The fire appeared to have started from welding, but did not spread as fast due to the winds being weaker than the previous day. 

Firefighters were able to contain the fire to 20 acres. Campbell said the area volunteer departments have a mutual aid agreement where the closest fire departments are called for assistance on larger, more difficult fires, creating a tight bond or “brotherhood” between local firefighters. 

In these instances, firefighters from Greenville-Overbook, Lake Murray Village, Falconhead, Lone Grove and Leon stopped what they were doing to help assist. Volunteer firefighters across the county are on the clock 24 hours, seven days a week and respond whenever they are needed, even on Christmas. 

“Doesn’t matter what day it is, we’re on call. It’s hard sometimes to get up and leave your Christmas dinner, it takes a toll on you when you get about four or five back to back at the same time,” Campbell said. “Sometimes you just come in and go right back out. It takes a toll on your firefighters and your equipment, but you just go with it.” 

This year has been tough on several volunteer departments that require donations for much of their funding, which is used to upkeep emergency vehicles and for other everyday expenses. Firefighters are urging the community to use extreme caution to help prevent large grass fires and protect the community while dry and windy conditions persist. 

Individuals are also encouraged to donate to their local volunteer department, and can do so by calling the department or getting in contact with a firefighter. 

“We can get by if we have to, but it just helps keep our equipment up, and also with water and gatorade and snacks for the guys who are out there two or three hours at a time,” Campbell said. “It just helps to donate to stuff like that for us.”