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Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Anderson Creek Fire Day 1 Volunteer Story

I have asked a few of the Firefighters on the Anderson Creek Fire to share a little about their experiences during the intense fire.  First to respond is Dylan Newman a 23 year old volunteer from Carmen, Oklahoma.  Carmen is a small town in Northwest Oklahoma located in Alfalfa county.  He has been a firefighter in Carmen for four years and currently serves as the assistant chief.  His day job is a custom applicator at the local Farmer's Coop.  Rural Kansas and Oklahoma are protected by brave men and women that leave their day jobs and families behind. Here is Dylan's recollection:

On March 22, 2016 at about 5:30 pm, I received a call from one of my best friends, Fire Chief of the Dacoma Volunteer Fire Department in Dacoma, Oklahoma located in Woods County. He asked if I had guys in town that could respond to a large fire quickly.  I said yes.  He said OK, we have a huge fire near Freedom spreading fast.  I made a few phone calls.  In less than 30 minutes, we were organized and in route to Freedom with 2 grass rigs.  Fire Chief Kevin Irwin and I in one truck and Captain Shawn Belt and long time Carmen firefighter Matthew Oldham in the other truck. 
It's about a 50 mile drive from Carmen to Freedom.  The second we got to the edge of town, we headed out where could clearly see the smoke.  We made a fast trip there turned off highway 64 north onto county road 230 which is about 2 miles east of Camp Houston. We arrived on scene to see a raging wildfire that was like nothing we had ever seen before.

We met up with 2 Dacoma FD units and a brush rig from I believe Elwood Township, Kansas.  We went north up county road 230 and decided that we would make an attempt to make a stand on the head fire when it went to cross the road.  We also had a Woods County dozer and grader there making fire breaks. In seconds, the fire was almost to us, we got lined up on the road ready to fight fire like we had many times, but this time went much different.  We sat on the road with grass, cedar trees and canyons on both sides ready to go and before I knew it, the fire was on us.  The main head fire roared up out of the canyon just in front of our truck. I was on the back in the man well area, where we fight fire from, and before I knew it the fire was roaring up out if the canyon next to us.

I couldn't see.
I couldn't breath.
It was the most intense heat I've ever felt on a grass fire.
At that time, we realized we couldn't stop it and had to evacuate, but we couldn't quickly due to the fire trucks behind us trying to get out.
We couldn't go forward due to the fire.
We were sitting ducks.
Everything happened so fast, but I still saw my life flash before my eyes.
I just knew I was going to die on the back of a fire truck that night.
The heat was so intense I could feel my ears, eyes and lips burning even though I was in full gear, it hurt so bad.

The only thing I could do was turn my nozzle on fog and lay down for cover in the man well of the fire truck.  We finally were able to start to back out and get away. We got out of the way of the danger and came to a stop only to realize the smoke coming out from under the hood of our truck.  We quickly popped the hood to see the insulation on fire,  and then realized the other damage to the truck.  Our headlight was melted, plastic on the grill and bumper was melted, paint was scorched and charred, along with the decals, and flashing emergency light bar and spotlight on top of the cab.
After that we decided we couldn't do that again or someone would get killed.  For the rest of the night Carmen, Dacoma, and Amorita Byron fire departments worked the west flank of the fire along county road 230 keeping the fire from crossing 230 to the west.  I remember being on the Dyer ranch that night. We stayed on the fire all night.
To basically sum it up, the first night of the fire was a very dangerous situation that I came close to injury and that definitely scared me.
The fire was just so big, and moved so fast.
It had a roar to it.
Cedar trees would just explode in the blink of an eye.
Ranchers were just cutting fences to try and get cattle out of the path.
The roads were covered in cattle running loose.

I returned to the fire 2 days later with a brush rig and tanker. We met back up with Dacoma and the Helena fire department and checked some hot spots west of Alva, Oklahoma and then proceeded north past the May Ranch onto Hackberry road in Southern Kansas.  We staged for a while south of Aetna, Kansas then moved west down Hackberry road through Ted Turner's Z Bar Ranch into Hardtner, Kansas, then north about 10 miles and back to the northwest onto the Boggs Ranch.  We fought some fire as it pushed to the south and came out of the canyons. We stayed there in that area with units from Dacoma, Helena, Capron, Oklahoma Departments and Barber County Rural Fire Department of Kansas all night.


Many things stood out to me with this fire, such as this fire moved faster than any fire I've ever seen. It was incredible how many volunteer firefighters dropped what they were doing in their lives to respond.  Small town rural American is a great thing, so many people offered us food and water. 
To the question of what to do different in future situations, well for myself, I will have a better escape route in a fire situation just in case things go south again, because no grass fire is worth dying over.  I can guarantee you this, even after such a close call in that situation, if the pager was to go off right now, I would go back out and help on the fire.  I wouldn't blink an eye, I would go in a heartbeat. That's what we do in rural American, we work together and help each other, you never know when you might need their help someday.

These are all photos I took, some of my photos are floating around Facebook and people are saying they were taken other places, but they aren't true. They are mine. I made the front page of the Enid, Oklahoma newspaper with one photo, some photos and videos made Oklahoma City Fox 25 news and one of my pictures will be in the High Plains Journal.

There were hundreds of volunteers like Dylan who answered the call that week.  I am very thankful that he and his crew made it out alive that first day and that we have guys like him across our great country that help protect us all.  Dylan certainly has a great eye for catching the moments of this monstrous fire.  

Kansas Farm Bureau has set up a website for donations and a list of supplies available called KFB Fire Relief.

Fire Chief, Kevin Irwin's wife sent me this information about a T-Shirt Fundraiser for the local departments. We are selling T-shirts for $20 and right now, all $20 is going to a fund to be shared between ALL fire departments in Kansas and Oklahoma that helped fight this blaze. 
We have had t shirts donated from one of our suppliers up to a certain amount and then a discounted price after we reach that amount. We are donating our time and service to print these shirts. For every T-shirt sold $20 goes into this fund. Please help us help those that ensure our safety. The link to purchase is: mkt.com/andersoncreekwildfire  or you can pick up tomorrow at Small Town Tees in Kiowa and Daisy Village in Alva.