About 50 firefighters, half of them with Osage Nation Wildland Fire, turned out to fight two prairie fires that were fanned by high winds on April 12 west of Pawhuska.
Ross Walker, chief of Wildland Fire, said that the westernmost fire at U.S. 60 and the Shidler turnoff was sparked by an electrical short and burned 136.5 acres on April 12 and another 57 acres the following day, when it rekindled. The second fire, four miles to the east at the Foraker turnoff, was likely caused by an electrical short or roadside cause, Walker said. The number of acres it burned has not been determined.
Winds were gusting to 45 mph when the fires broke out in the afternoon, and when the fire jumped U.S. 60, the highway had to be shut down briefly by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and state Department of Transportation.
No one was injured in either fire, although a volunteer firefighting rig slid and gently tipped on its side when a creek bank gave way. It was soon righted by volunteers using two other trucks.
“The rattlesnake we ran into was more dangerous,” Walker said. “Honestly (the accident) was just bad timing and the outcome was the best it could possibly have been.”
Wildland Fire used a helicopter outfitted with a “Bambi bucket” to dip water out of a nearby pond to help douse the fire. The aerial apparatus is leased federally to aid in wildland fires and is usually staged at the Bartlesville airport, but it had been moved to the Pawhuska airport in anticipation of fire danger.
In addition to about two dozen firefighters associated with Osage Nation Wildland Fire Management, Walker said that firefighters from several volunteer departments participated, including from Clear Creek (Drummond Ranch), Burbank, Shidler, Little Chief, DeNoya, Sarge Creek, Lost Man Creek and Fairfax.