BY Staff and Wire Reports
Sunday, August 05, 2012
8/05/12 at 8:12 AM
Related Story: Many evacuees unsure of what they'll do now
Residents of Mannford and Drumright were evacuated from their homes Saturday as raging fires burned thousands of acres across Creek County and Oklahoma.
Creek County was one of the hardest-hit areas with 32,000 acres burned, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. Two National Guard helicopters as well as a host of area fire departments fought the flames Saturday.
"I've never seen a fire at all, but you could hear it coming," said Tulsa World employee Chris Clements, who lives 3 1/2 miles west of Mannford. "It sounded like a giant pan of bacon frying, and you could hear it blocks away."
Peggy Dudley, who lives north of Mannford, said of the fire: "It moved like a freight train."
The fires were among at least 10 reported burning Saturday in Oklahoma, where a severe drought has parched the landscape and high winds made battling the blazes difficult.
Outside of the Creek County blaze, fires include one about 35 miles to the west in Payne County. Emergency management officials ordered residents of Mannford and Drumright to leave their homes, according to Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Keli Cain. Glencoe, in nearby Payne County, was also evacuated.
Cain said no serious injuries had been reported.
The fires spread smoke and soot into Tulsa County. A Saturday evening storm dropped one-tenth inch of rain in the Tulsa area, weather service officials reported.
A Mannford Red Cross shelter, where 40 people stayed Friday night, had to be shut down Saturday because it lost power. It was moved to the United Methodist Church in Sand Springs.
The Red Cross opened several shelters Saturday night to accommodate evacuees from Mannford, Drumright and Glencoe.
More than 20 agencies including fire departments, law enforcement agencies and assistance organizations from across the state have responded to the fires.
A fire near Kellyville caused the Turner Turnpike to shut down between Tulsa and Bristow for several hours Saturday.
County Commissioner Newt Stephens asked Creek County residents to be patient and to stay away from the flames raging in the northern part of the county.
"Keep the gawkers out, and those that are wanting to go in and look. I know it's a big deal, but it's just not safe to do that," Stephens told reporters.
"When the wind comes up and a big flame comes across and them cedar trees look like dynamite going off, it gets scary out there."
A Mannford dispatcher said around noon Saturday there were too many fires to count. All of Sapulpa's fire crews were spread throughout the county including Kellyville.
A Beggs dispatcher said that fire crews spent all day Friday assisting Mannford and Twin Hills, east of Beggs.
Crews were providing food and drinks for emergency responders and operating a command center at the intersection of Oklahoma 33 and Oklahoma 48.
More than 20 agencies, including fire departments, law enforcement agencies and assistance organizations, from across the state have responded to the fires, Stephens said.
The Oklahoma Emergency Operations Center reported that at least 40 structures had been destroyed in the wildfire in Creek County as of Friday night, and numbers from Saturday's fires were unavailable.
Many people who were evacuated Friday night have not been able to return to their homes, and some don't know if they even have a home to return to.
Karen Miller was coming back from Tulsa on Friday night but wasn't able to get to her home west of Mannford off Oklahoma 51 because the highway was closed.
"It was shocking," Miller said. "I worry about the dogs. You're just caught off guard, just waiting."
Stephens said residents who were evacuated need to register with the American Red Cross at the designated shelter in Mannford.
"I know everyone wants to go (home) and check things out, but it's not a good idea," Stephens said.
A fire near Luther, some 25 miles northeast of Oklahoma City, destroyed nearly five dozen homes and other buildings before firefighters were able to gain some measure of control Saturday.
Authorities suspect the fire near Luther may have been intentionally set, while the cause of the others was undetermined. The Oklahoma County sheriff's department said it was looking for someone in a black pickup truck who was seen throwing newspapers out a window after setting them ablaze.
Department spokeswoman Mary Myers said there were "no arrests, no suspects" but deputies were "working around the clock" to find anyone responsible.
Gov. Mary Fallin toured Luther on Saturday, hugging residents whose homes and belongings were destroyed by the fire that swept through treetops on 24 mph winds.
"It's heart-breaking to see families that have lost so much," Fallin said after talking with some who were milling around the still-smoking debris that had been their homes. "I gave them a hug, told them I was sorry."
The fire burned just over 4 square miles, including an area near the Turner Turnpike, which carries Interstate 44 between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The superhighway was briefly closed Friday and traffic was diverted onto old Route 66.
On Saturday, those returning to their homes in Luther found charred timbers poking from the debris and the burned out shells of refrigerators, washers and dryers.
"It makes me feel sad," said Victoria Landavazo, clutching a young child in her arms. "It's all gone. All of our family pictures, everything was there."
Her neighbors, Douglas and Rebecca Kolar, spoke with their insurance agent in front of the remains of their home. Rebecca Kolar saw footage of it burning the night before on television.
"They thought the fire was going behind (the neighborhood)," she said. "And then the wind shifted, and it was too quick. We couldn't do anything."
She said she was able to gather her children, three dogs and some family photos before her house and six others on the street caught fire.
Casey Strahan said he went outside after power went out in the home he rents about 4:30 p.m. He looked south and saw smoke rising in the distance. He thought it was moving away from him until police ordered him to leave. He rushed through the house, grabbing clothing, photos and a computer as he went. When he returned Saturday, he found the house burned to the ground.
"I just never thought it was really going to get us," said Strahan, a softball and girls basketball coach at Luther High School.
Pittsburg County Emergency Management reported a fire 10 miles west-southwest of Quinton at Lick Creek Road near Lake Eufaula where homes were evacuated.
The summer in Oklahoma is shaping up to be much like last year's, with little rainfall, low humidity and temperatures exceeding 110 degrees in many locations. The Oklahoma Forestry Commission said that means it also could be another bad year for wildfires.
"I think it's going to be right up there, (as among the worst) in memories, at least," said Michelle Finch-Walker, an agency spokeswoman. She predicted the number of fires could end up being similar to last year, when the agency fought about 1,800 wildfires.
Spokesman Jim Camoriano with State Farm Insurance said about 15 homeowner's claims had been submitted statewide as of noon Saturday.
Most of the claims came from the Oklahoma City area, but he said he expects more to be submitted after evacuations are lifted and residents are allowed back into their homes to assess the damage.
"It's been heart-wrenching to watch it unfold across the state today," Camoriano said. "Certainly, our thoughts are out to those that are in harm's way."
He advised homeowners to keep a clean perimeter around their homes and combustibles away from the residence.
He said homeowners should be familiar with their policy to avoid being underinsured. A provision for additional living expenses such as lodging, food and pet care during an emergency may be available.
It's also important to keep a current inventory complete with photographs or videos of valuable items in the home. The inventory, video or photos should be stored away from the house.
More than 52,000 acres have burned in fires across the state since Friday.
Oklahoma Forestry Services reports include:
Creek County: 32,000 acres
Noble/Slaughterville: 7,900 acres
Luther: 2,600 acres
- Sand Springs United Methodist Church, 101 W. 38th St., Sand Springs
- The Depot (Word of Life Church), 619 E. 10th St., Sand Springs
- Cushing Senior Center, 203 E. Cherry St., Cushing
- First United Methodist Church, 800 Sixth St., Pawnee
- The Dennis R. Neill Equality Center, 621 E. Fourth St., Tulsa
For more information on the statewide burn ban:
Phone: Call Oklahoma Forestry Services at 580-236-1021
World staff writers Susan Hylton, Sara Plummer and Amanda Bland, and Associated Press writers Tim Talley and Ken Miller contributed to this report.
A house is engulfed in flames near the junction of Oklahoma 48 and 33 east of Drumright on Saturday. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World
Structures are engulfed in flames near the junction of Highways 48 and east of Drumright on Saturday. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World
A grassfire in Kellyville near West 151st and the Turner Turnpike. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World