Firefighters have close calls fighting Osage County grass fires

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Reported by: Ian Silver
Updated: 1/13 7:40 pm Published: 1/13 7:25 pm

Nine separate grass fires burned close to 1,000 acres in Osage County between Sunday and Monday, mostly near Hominy. Monday night, the biggest fire was mostly contained, but still not put out.

Several firefighters battling the flames had close calls Sunday afternoon and night.

"It is very scary," Osage Nation firefighter James Black said.

Black was first on the scene of the largest of the nine fires. Though he's trained for it, Black said he still gets overwhelmed walking into flames.

"[They were] probably  seven or eight foot [sic] from the grass," Black said. "So, with the winds at 40 mile an hour gusts..."

He said the fire moved quite fast.

"About 30 yards a minute," Black said.

Fast enough that the fire trapped him, as flames surrounded and cut off all of his escape routes. And fast enough that he didn't have time to set up his fire shelter. So, Black was forced to take a risk.

"I waited until the wind kind of calmed down, then just found the shortest flame links, ran through it, then stayed in the black," Black said, referring to areas of grass that had already burned. "The black is the best safety zone you can have on a fire."

But that wasn't his only narrow escape.

A short time later after more firefighters and equipment arrived, strong winds caused the fire to shift again, nearly trapping all of them on a hill.

"it came on both sides, so I evacuated all the guys out."

Black and his team finally got the fire partially contained overnight. On Monday the wind was calmer, allowing portions of the fire to burn themselves out, but Black and other firefighters still braced for another extreme fire danger day on Tuesday.

"That's why we're taking advantage of our down time [today]," Ross Walker, another Osage Nation firefighter, said.

But as of Monday afternoon, Black, Walker and the rest of their team were feeling pretty good about how things were going so far.

"Really lucky," Black said.

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