Area efforts recognized by Gov. Stitt: Local first responders recognized for team effort to put out 400 acre fire

Sierra Rains

A team of 78 local first responders from 16 different agencies, including several volunteer departments, spent over eight hours fighting a 400 acre wildfire earlier this month.

By the time the fire was completely extinguished, the first responders from Carter, Garvin and Stephens Counties had managed to prevent any injuries, damage or deaths and on Jan. 16, Governor Kevin Stitt recognized them for their dedication to protecting the community.

In a Governor’s Commendation presented to each agency, the governor thanked the first responders for “going above and beyond in the preservation and safety of the great State of Oklahoma.”

Ratliff City Emergency Management Director Robert Thornton said his department originally received a call concerning a fire near Ranch Road and Samedan Road in the Fox-Graham area around 12:19 p.m. on Jan. 8. Most of the state was in extreme fire danger on Jan. 8, with wind speeds at around 30 to 50 mph and low humidity levels.

“That particular day, I had actually gotten a message from forestry that it had already been declared a red flag day at 7:30 in the morning,” Thornton said.

Individuals from a local electric company had been working in the area and a power line came down, reportedly igniting the fire, said Lone Grove Fire Chief Stacey Phelps, who had two firetrucks dispatched to the fire.

“People were working in areas that they probably shouldn’t have been working in, which sparked this, which with the high winds and low humidity ended up causing a bigger problem than what we needed,” Thornton said.

On average, fires tend to only stretch about 50 to 60 acres, Thornton said. However, Phelps said every time firefighters would get the flames down, it would start back up again due to the high winds.

First responders from the Fox-Graham Volunteer Fire Department and Ratliff City Volunteer Fire Department were some of the first to arrive on scene. By 8:35 p.m., 14 other agencies had responded, collaboratively using 100,000 gallons of water to completely extinguish the fire.

Most of the first responders were on scene the entire time, Phelps said, with his department spending five hours on the scene.

“It wasn’t just the firemen on the scene either, we also had search people that were there,” Thornton said. “Our communications— in house, we could go car to car and we could work with each other and we could relay with each other on scene, but we still also had to have the two dispatchers at the county work with us as well. So, I mean, it was truly a team effort.”

At least 90% of the people who responded were volunteers, as well, Thornton said. Many of their organizations, such as the Smokey Valley Volunteer Fire Department, run completely on donations; and for those from such departments, just the cost of gas to get to the area could cost a month’s worth of operations, he said.

“Which shows true community support,” Thornton said. “Our own government is recognizing our citizens and the heart they have and this proves there’s good people no matter where you’re at. We had them from all over the county, from one side to the other.”

The agencies that assisted or responded to the fire include:

- Bray Volunteer Fire Department

- Carter County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)

- Carter County Emergency Management

- Fox-Graham Volunteer Fire Department

- Healdton Volunteer Fire Department

- Lone Grove Fire Department

- Pernell Volunteer Fire Department

- Ratliff City Volunteer Fire Department

- Ratliff City Police Department

- Southern Oklahoma Ambulance Service (SOAS)

- Smokey Valley Volunteer Fire Department

- Sneed Volunteer Fire Department

- Velma Volunteer Fire Department

- Velma Police Department

- Wilson Volunteer Fire Department