STOCKTON — A helicopter could be seen from U.S. Highway 183 just south of Stockton on Wednesday afternoon dropping much-needed moisture on the scorched earth that stretched for miles on each side of the road.
Rooks County Emergency Management urged non-emergency personnel to stay out of the burn zone while preventative air drops took place after 11 a.m.
Butch Post, Rooks County emergency coordinator, said the single helicopter used water from Rooks County State Lake to perform 26 drops over the burn zone.
Of the 16 fire departments that helped since the fire started Monday, Post said only three crews were on monitor status.
“We are able to say we are at 97-percent contained at this time,” Post said just before 5 p.m. Wednesday. “We’ll get there.”
According to Post, 10,240 acres were burned in the fire, but there still were more assessments to be done.
Approximately 30 miles to the south in Ellis and Russell counties, firefighters were confident they finally had their own fire under control.
Members of the Waldo-Paradise-Natoma Rural Fire Department No. 3 sat on a hill monitoring a controlled burn Wednesday afternoon just southwest of Fairport on Homestead Road.
After a crazy few days of high winds, they were happy to have the fire contained.
“We’re in a really good spot,” Chief Quentin Maupin said. “We’re contained over here.”
The crew just had completed a back burn along a row of trees the fire had reached. According to Maupin, that would keep the fire from spreading if the wind switched directions.
Their department had trucks assisting Rooks County and the Wilson fire before being called to assist in Ellis and Russell counties Tuesday afternoon.
“We left last night about 12:30 and were back at 6:30 this morning,” Maupin said Wednesday. “So we got a good five hours of sleep, but I don’t think others were so lucky.”
While fire departments have been working long hours the past two days, Maupin said the help of local farmers and oil companies can’t be overlooked.
“The farmers and all the water they hauled, and there were several oil companies that hauled water in, too,” Maupin said.
He and his crew were preparing to head home at 4 p.m. Wednesday after battling the biggest fire they had assisted with.
“Nothing even close to this,” Maupin said of the fires the department had fought in the past.
“We’re still dealing with a few hot spots, but everything is looking pretty good right now,” said Keith Haberer, emergency manager for Russell and Ellsworth counties. “There weren’t too many acres burned in Russell County, but boy there were a lot in Ellis County.”
Darin Myers, Ellis County fire and emergency management director, said at approximately 4 p.m. Wednesday they considered the fire to be 100-percent contained.
“We’re going to have hot spots,” Myers said. “The fire line is 10 to 12 miles long.”
Myers said crews would stay to monitor the area throughout the evening.
He estimated approximately 4,800 to 4,900 acres were burned in Ellis County alone.
“At this point, we haven’t had any reports of injuries, lives lost or the loss of any livestock,” Myers said.
In a press release late Wednesday, Myers said the fire appeared to be accidental and caused by a failed disconnect on a lighting arrester on an oil lease site. That caused a short and a spark, which started grass on fire.