Budget Cuts Impacting Wildfire Response In NW Oklahoma

Friday, March 17th 2017, 6:16 pm
By: News 9

State forestry services says nearly 200 people are still patrolling what's left of the wildfire complex in Northwestern Oklahoma. More than 300,000 acres have burned in the state.

Many might be surprised to see firefighters from different agencies and states fighting in NW Oklahoma, but leaders at the department of forestry say it's a sign of the times and budget.

Thousands of acres burning in Northwest Oklahoma has prompted an all hands-on deck response from the state forestry division. But even their entire emergency incident management team is not enough to handle on their own.

“We are pretty much at the limit of what we can do,” said State Forestry Director George Geissler. “The budget of agriculture has taken about a third of its budget cut over its past few years.”

Initial response to the intense Northwest complex fire was limited to local firefighters from rural and volunteer departments. Geissler's emergency response teams have understandably been spread thin.

“We literally at this point needed hundreds of firefighters, not the 25 we sent there”, said Geissler.

When the breaking point was reached, Geissler says he enacted a state compact plan, allowing firefighters from other states to come assist with containment efforts.

“We have on the ground fire crews- Arkansas, Louisiana and Kentucky. The incident management team itself is a U.S. forest service. This is a federal team that was brought in to handle this,” said Geissler.

While many in the state are relieved to get the much needed help, others are left wondering who pays for it all.

“But overall, it really does come down to the people of Oklahoma really do pay for these fires,” said Geissler.

Forestry division staff say about 80 - 85 percent of the Northwest complex fire is under control.