Now, as the land has started to recover and homeowners to rebuild.... how are volunteer fire departments faring, and will they be able to handle back to back bad fire seasons if necessary?
VFD's are bracing for another year where they expect to see more of the same.
They rely one hundred percent on donations and grants ... and they're hoping they'll be able to sustain the wildfires they're already anticipating this year.
It was a firestorm for the record books ... all hands on deck battling the ferocious blazes.
"Last year was never-ending."
Lake Arrowhead VFD Fire Chief
"Everything was aligned. The winds, the drought, just - long grass and everything all kinda hit at once, and it just kinda - once it started, it just didn't really stop."
Wichita West VFD Chief
"Every moment, it felt like we were out here just nonstop."
Wichita East VFD Chief
"Really hot, dry, 100 days of 100 degrees and no rain."
"We had a fire up the road, & the roots were even burning. Down under the ground. As they'd go scratching the ground to mop up, it'd re-light the fire. And that was - cause everything was so dry that it was actually burning down under the dirt -- so where we thought we had em out, we really didn't."
All that time spent in the fight took a big toll Texoma's volunteer fire departments --financially, mentally and physically.
"When you're not fighting, you have to raise money to pay for the stuff you tore up or fuel to fight fires."
"It was very difficult. We did have some federal money that helped us reimburse some of our funds, but that is always a long process of once you put it in to ever see the funds back."
"We had to dig pretty deep into our accounts to fix the trucks. We -- you know, we have and we're still trying to get new ones and filing for grants - but so is everybody else."
VFD's say they forged stronger brotherhoods during last year's trials.
"Teamwork. It came into a big factor. You know, we had to rely on each other more than ever. And even in our big fires, it came to a point where we were asking a particular department for help -- well, that same department was asking us for help at the same time."
"We got a really good -- we have a really good relationship with the city of Wichita Falls."
They also learned tactical lessons:
"Well -- as much as just grabbing a hoe or a shovel, & scratching the ground. Mark you an area down along the line just to give it a stopping point -- then actually start a fire & burn it back into the other fire. Then it - no fuel, no fire."
Now, VFD's are facing another year that doesn't look good.
"We're nervous. We're -- you know, we did get a little bit of rain, but I don't think people realize that the rain we had is not near the help that we need."
"Everything grew, & it's green right now -- but if it dies, we're going to have some really thick foilage, & it could be a really bad year if we don't keep getting moisture."
"Yeah, it's kind of like, 'oh man, here we go' -- but -- we signed up to do a job."
But to do that job -- the volunteer fire departments need the community's help.
"Donate. Everybody donate to the fire departments. We need it."
And another way to help--keep your property mowed and do not pile wood or debris near houses or barns.
"Just continue to be careful and use common sense. You know, just because we had rain, that doesn't mean that everything's okay. So conditions will relive last year. So please just be careful."
And despite the daunting task of fighting fires in nearly impossible conditions ... Members of these volunteer fire departments give their time and put their lives on the line because they care about their neighbors and communities.
"You do it for yourself, & you know that you're making a difference, & that's all that matters. Paid or volunteer."
"I do it because I like helping people. And I wanna think that's what most people's are. Cause just imagine what would happen if we weren't here."
The volunteer fire departments say they're always looking for more volunteers ...
And even if you are unable to go on the fire line with them, they can always use help with other things around the fire station.
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