By Governor Mary Fallin
The month of August started like the month of July ended: hot, dry and windy. In other words, the conditions were perfect for wildfires.
Difficult summers, however, are something we’re used to. In response to the weather and in anticipation of wildfires, I placed all 77 counties under a State of Emergency due to drought. When dozens of fires broke out across the state, Oklahomans were prepared.
Because of the statewide emergency declaration, state and local governments were able to make emergency purchases and immediately begin protecting their communities. And although they couldn’t stop the fires that spread across the state– especially those that may have been started maliciously and intentionally – the statewide governor’s burn ban protected us from a scenario that could have been even worse.
As always, Oklahoma’s first responders proved and continue to prove why they are considered on par with the best in the country and the world. Firefighters worked relentlessly through the weekend – many with little or no sleep – protecting our communities, saving homes and saving lives. Many are still going.
In the town of Drumright, which was threatened by the massive Creek County fire that burned over 58,000 acres, exhausted first responders told me how they had joined with other local fire departments to halt the blaze and save their community. Sure enough, while the grasslands and forest around the town were scorched black and the surrounding area had lost several houses, the town itself was untouched. Drumright residents rallied to support their heroes: the fire department and city hall were stocked to near-bursting from ice, water, Gatorade and snacks donated by local families.
For those who did lose their homes to wildfires, help is coming. My office is working with groups like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, as well as Insurance Commissioner John Doak, to help those individuals and communities get back on their feet as quickly as possible. Additionally, as the state moves from response to recovery operations, I expect to be able to request a Disaster Declaration from the federal government, and to hopefully receive federal assistance for individuals and families affected by the fires.
As heartbreaking as it is to see so much destruction, it is inspiring to see how Oklahomans band together in a time of crisis – neighbor helping neighbor, and community helping community. The response and recovery effort has truly been statewide, with help coming from the National Guard, state first responders, emergency volunteers, and thousands of men, women and children who are collecting and donating resources to support firefighters or neighbors in distress. It is yet another demonstration of the “Oklahoma Standard” of community and selflessness for which we have become known for.
Moving forward, we have a lot of work to do. There are many people who still need help. Fortunately, this is Oklahoma, and there are many who are willing to provide that help. In the last few days, we’ve had countless people contact our office to ask how. Below you will find contact information and instructions for donating resources to some of the most effective and engaged organizations in the state.
My sincere thanks go out to the tens of thousands of Oklahomans who have worked to fight wildfires, support recovery efforts or simply comfort their neighbors.