Oklahoma Wildland Firefighter Memorial
Honoring the thousands of wildland firefighters
who put their lives on the line each year.
On August 11, 2000 Oklahoma Forestry Services lost a friend and fellow coworker, Jim Burnett. Jim was an 18-year fire management veteran and forester who had fought blazes all over the nation, so when the call came for firefighters to go to Wyoming on August 2, 2000, Jim didn't hesitate. He and a crew of five other Oklahoma firefighters went to the Meeteetse, Wyoming fire before being assigned to battle the Kate's Basin fire on August 10.
The summer of 2000 was a long fire season throughout the country. Throughout much of the west, fires were burning with rapid rates of spread and extreme fire behavior. In Wyoming, the Kate's Basin Fire was raging across 33,000 acres. A crew of men from Oklahoma and Arkansas were assigned to that fire. On August 11, 2000, engines from Oklahoma were tending to the Kate’s Basin Fire southwest of Thermopolis, Wyoming.
| Presley Byington visiting
Jim Burnett, foreman of an Oklahoma Engine, and firefighter Presley Byington were scouting along the fire lines when they realized they could not hold the line. Winds were picking up and they needed to retreat back to safety. When the oncoming fire cut off their escape route, Burnett started the pump on the engine, but it only ran for a few seconds, due to lack of oxygen from the fire. He was then separated from the truck as he tried to escape to a safe area on foot. The onrushing fire prevented Byington from getting out of the truck, but he was able to protect himself by deploying his fire shelter inside the truck.
Recognizing that Byington and Burnett might be in trouble, the Thermopolis Volunteer Fire Department responded with their hose deployed. After finding the engine on fire, they suppressed the fire and rescued Byington from the cab. Before Burnett could reach safety he was overrun by the fire and killed.
Each year, over 25,000 people risk their lives to help prevent fire from spreading. This statue memorializes all of the fallen firefighters and those who give their lives to fight fires. People hear about forest fires through the media. However, only those who have participated or been near a severe forest fire know the trauma that is involved. Society hears about "resources being thin" but not many realize that those resources are actually people.