Wildfires stretch volunteer fire departments thin, creative fundraising keeps them afloat

HEFLIN, Ala. (WIAT) — The rash of wildfires across Central Alabama is putting a strain on some volunteer fire departments. Near Heflin, the Hollis Crossroads Volunteer Fire Department has about 45 volunteers, and they’ve been battling a larger than normal amount of brush fires.

“I think it was just yesterday, there was about four different departments, getting called out to a wildfire,” said Sam Locke, one of those firefighters. “Just a quick moment, it can go out of hand, that can threaten lives, structures, vehicles, barnes, cattle.”

Dan Hopkins has been chief of the VFD for decades, and he also serves as a vice president for the Alabama Association of Volunteer Fire Departments.

Hopkins says that they’ve been lucky in recent years. For example, grant money has helped them buy a new fire truck. But even that windfall came with its own share of problems, as the truck is too large to fit safely into their decades-old building.

For about 12 years, Hopkins has been working to raise enough money for a new station.

“It used to be there was grants available for it, but the grants gone, the fed money is gone,” Hopkins said.

The volunteers have come up with their own unique fundraiser in recent years, a haunted chicken house attraction on Hopkins’ property. Through the years, it’s helped the department cut out more traditional, less profitable methods of raising money. However, Hopkins says volunteer departments across the state are hurting.

“Several departments in the State of Alabama has no tax money, no tobacco money, they live solely off of chili suppers and barbecues, and they pay a lot of it out of their own pocket,” Hopkins said. “Some of these departments have dwindled down to four or five members.”

That’s become especially challenging as departments need to use more equipment and manpower to fight the rash of wildfires brought on by the drought. Hopkins says the Alabama Association of Volunteer Fire Departments is encouraging everyone to donate–to make sure there’s enough money to fight the fires.

“The house you save could be your own,” he said.

You can find out more about the Haunted Chicken House at http://www.hauntedchickenhouse.com/.

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