Wildfires take emotional, financial toll on firefighters

CREEK COUNTY, Okla. - The recent Creek County wildfires haven't just taken a toll on residents, but firefighters too.

The fires scorched more than 50,000 acres in the county and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes.

"It's heartbreaking. It hurts us that we could not save every house and every building. We tried as hard as we could," said Mike Dunbar, assistant chief of the Freedom Hill Fire Department.

Dunbar said area firefighters have never experienced anything as devastating than the recent fires.

"You usually see footage of these from California," said Dunbar.

Freedom Hill is a volunteer fire department, located in the middle of the burn zone.

Dunbar said the fires have taken an emotional and financial toll on his station, from fuel to repair costs.

"Once the bills start rolling in that's when we're going to have to figure out how we're going to pay for it," said Dunbar.

Dunbar said in the past firefighters have paid for expenses out of their own pockets, but he said the public is generally supportive whenever there's a deep need. For instance, when the station ran low on bottled water and food recently, the shelves were replenished within a matter of hours because of donations.

The department lost one truck during the fires.

"It's out of service until we can address it. We either have to determine if it's repairable or if it's financially feasible to repair it," said Dunbar.

Dunbar said the station usually makes its own vehicle repairs.

The fire even pushed Dunbar's wedding back.

It was scheduled for this past weekend.

"Between fighting fires and the power being out, and the roads being closed, we just decided to cancel the wedding until this is over," said Dunbar.

Luckily, firefighters were able to save the church where he plans to get married. A small victory amid devastating loss.

Firefighters at the station were still responding to calls throughout the day Thursday, though the fires were much less threatening.

The department said even with the loss of its truck, it is still able to respond to calls as normal.

Donations are always welcome, whether monetary, bottled water, food or Gatorade. For more information, call the fire department at (918) 352-4102.

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