Utah firefighters lend a hand in Oklahoma
Crews also called in from Arkansas, Montana, Texas
By Wendy Leonard
Deseret Morning News
Several of Utah's wildland firefighters headed to Oklahoma this past week to fight some of the country's first fires of the season.
"It's the earliest we've ever gone out for fires," said Unified Fire Authority Cpt. Duane Woolsey.
Woolsey works for the Wildland division in Utah and was assigned, with three other men from Salt Lake County's UFA, to assist the state of Oklahoma with a number of wildfires burning out of control.
"We've got a lot of wind, they've had record-high temperatures and low humidity right now, which makes it hard to keep on top of it," he said. The fire they are stationed at is just outside of the town of Loco, in southern Oklahoma. Woolsey said that particular fire joined with two others and grew from a 1,000-acre fire to 15,000 acres in one day, burning at least 15 homes in its path.
Woolsey said the state needs all the help it can get. Firefighters have been pulled in not only from Utah, but also Arkansas, Montana, Texas, South Dakota and other states.
A member of Woolsey's crew, Dusty Dern, has only been with the wildland division seven years and was assigned as a task force leader at the Loco fire operation site.
"It's a huge job, and typically it's not done by guys as young as Dusty," Woolsey said. He said Dern is in charge of coordinating the operation of several resources, a critical part of fighting a wildland fire.
They are not the only help Utah sent. Members of the Division of Fire, Forestry and State Lands, the National Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management in southern Utah are also on hand to help in areas being burned in Oklahoma.
Members of the UFA who are in Oklahoma will remain there for at least 14 days and as many as 21. Throughout the busy fire season, which usually begins in the middle of May and extends to Oct. 1, members of the Wildland Division in Utah are transported all over the country. Woolsey said that last year, the crew started in Nevada, helped out in Idaho and Montana, and ended the season in Washington.
"We're used to it, but our families aren't," he said.
Oklahoma City reported a record high of 91 degrees on Wednesday, and the state is in the middle of one of the worst droughts it has ever experienced since 1917, according to the National Weather Service. Several hundred homes have been evacuated and tens of thousands of acres have been scorched in the fires there.
"We're doing everything we can to help them out," Woolsey said.
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