FORT SILL, Oklahoma (April 18 2022,) —Fort Sill firefighters have earned a reputation for being an integral part in protecting the community, on and off-post, during a historic wildfire season.
Between December 2021 and March 2022 Fort Sill firefighters assisted with more than a dozen wildfires in nearby communities including Sterling, Indiahoma, Wichita Mountain Estates, Porter Hill and others. In all, firefighters battled more than 5000 acres of wildfires and over a dozen structure fires.
From providing structure protection of homes, evacuation of endangered citizens in the path of fires to backfiring operations to stop head-fire forward movement, the Fort Sill Directorate of Emergency Services Fire Department has had a major impact in fighting recent outbreaks of wildfires this season, said Comanche County Emergency Management Director Cling Langford.
“Working together with community partners is an integral part of the modern first responder and that becomes even more evident during major emergencies or disasters,” said Langford. “Due to the unique mission of the Fires Center of Excellence and the wildland firefighting mission specific to (FCoE), when providing mutual aid assistance to Comanche County they bring a unique skill set that helps save lives and property.”
The last six months has proven to be a challenging and extremely taxing wildfire season for area fire departments. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, areas of southwest Oklahoma have only recorded 2.56 inches of rain since September 2021. As a result, Comanche County has been inundated with wildfires burning thousands of acres and destroying dozens of homes & structures, said Langford.
“The extended drought and strong Oklahoma winds have resulted in historic wildfire behavior that resulted in multiple large wildfires occurring simultaneously. It takes numerous resources to effectively control the fires,” said Langford. “Often these wildfires have required over 100 first responders utilizing 50 plus fire trucks, ambulances and law enforcement vehicles to control the incident.”
The scenarios described by Langford demand area departments, including Fort Sill, work together regardless of jurisdictional boundaries to adequately protect citizens and ensure the resiliency of local communities, said Langford. “This has been and will continue to be the Oklahoma Standard.”
DES firefighters have directly impacted the success Comanche County has had in many of these wildfires, said Langford. That impact is mainly because of the DES Fire Department’s role on Fort Sill of using controlled burns to prevent larger fires due to the unique training on the post.
“Our experience with maintaining Fort Sill and preventing fires from escaping the fence has given us the experience and the reputation to go outside our gates and help the community,” said DES Fire Chief Dwayne Harris. “Fort Sill is starting to earn a reputation within the community of being a knowledgeable source of information for wildfires and when our station chiefs go out to assist, a lot of times they’ll be assigned as a division chief for the incident.”
Most southwest Oklahoma counties have issued burn bans to mitigate wildfires, however as a federal facility and due to the nature of the training at Fort Sill, the bans do not apply to the post, said Arthur Webster, DES prevention chief. However, there are somethings people on Fort Sill can do to prevent fires.
“As we move into spring and summer, we’re going to see a lot more green vegetation and that will help,” said Webster. “But people still need to be mindful of their charcoal grills. Never leave it unattended and safely dispose of the coals when your done cooking. A grill can get away from you pretty quick if you’re not watching it.”
Webster also recommended not throwing lit cigarettes out of car windows and making sure trailer chains are the proper length, so they do not drag the ground.
“People don’t thing a cigarette or the spark from chains on the highway could be that bad or could cause a fire, but we’ve proven that wrong,” said Webster. “Under an ordinary season, they could be right, but now, and in the long-term we’ve been unseasonably dry, so anything that causes a spark could cause a fire.”