217 Fire put out by much needed rainstorm; fire restarts Aug. 2

After almost five days of fighting a mighty blaze in northwest Oklahoma, volunteer firefighters and other members of emergency services had a chance to rest. The fire, known as the 217 Fire, broke out on July 25 and continued to spread and threaten the towns of Mooreland and Woodward, Oklahoma, until rain began to fall the evening of July 28. By the next morning Mooreland Volunteer Fire Department deemed the fire extinguished. However, the fire re-ignited Aug. 2.

Deep canyons, cedars trees, dry conditions, 105-degree Fahrenheit days and extremely low humidity fueled the fire for days. The 217 Fire burned 21,500 acres in Woodward County and was 10 miles long and a mile and a half wide in some areas. However, if Mother Nature had not decided to let some rain fall, this could be a different outcome.

Mooreland Volunteer Fire Department Chief Travis Case said the flames flared up around 4:30 p.m. on July 25 and even though he called for federal and state support, he was denied air support because the area was too rural and the fire was not large enough to warrant federal or state assistance for wildlife service or the National Guard.

“This is challenging because our government didn’t send us any help,” he explained. “I sent in nine requests for helicopters and equipment and any kind of air support and they told us the fire wasn’t big enough. The first time they denied us they told us our area didn’t have enough civilians and they weren’t worried about it because it was just grass. That’s a bad thing to say to a bunch of farmers that are about to lose everything they’ve got because they don’t have enough to feed their cattle and now it’s all burned up. If we call for help it’s not like we’re asking for someone to bring us a cup of tea. We need it. If they would have sent us some support the first day, we could have had this fire put out at 3,000 acres on the first day.”

Around noon on July 27, the National Guard deployed two Blackhawk helicopters to fly over and make water drops and four large air tankers, utilized by the Oklahoma Forestry Service, dropped a total of 15,000 gallons of fire retardant at the head of the fire. One of the helicopters experienced some mechanical issues and was not able to operate. Drones flying in the areas of the fire also complicated the plane and helicopter’s efforts to extinguish the fire. Drones disrupt instruments needed to fly an aircraft and flying them in a disaster area is against the law. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt declared the incident a federal disaster on the third day of the fire while it was at 0% containment.

About mid-afternoon on July 27, the wind shifted suddenly and the wildfire moved rapidly toward Mooreland. An evacuation order was issued for residents north and east of Mooreland, an area that included 80 homes. Air support was able to save all of the homes the fire was approaching. The evacuation order was lifted later that evening. No deaths of people or livestock were reported; however, a few barns and buildings were destroyed. Case said two fire fighters suffered from heat exhaustion and one had to be hospitalized.

Case said the fire department is unsure of the origins of the fire. He said hundreds of volunteer fire departments assisted in taming the 217 Fire, coming from all over the state and even from across the Texas border. Many of the fire departments that helped put out the fire are asking for donations to repair equipment or replenish supplies. Contact the Mooreland Volunteer Fire Department to learn how to donate. To donate hay to the Mooreland area ranchers, contact Bernie Smith at 580-334-8063 or Levi Smith at 620-518-2803.

Lacey Vilhauer can be reached at 620-227-1871 or [email protected].