Rising from the ashes
BY SUSAN HYLTON World Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 07, 2012
8/07/12 at 7:14 AM
Watch videos and see photos of the wildfires since Friday
Lawmakers say lack of funds, too many cedars hamper Oklahoma firefighters
Cleveland County fires continue to smolder
ODOT uses signs to warn of fires
MANNFORD - Weekend wildfires destroyed at least 70 residences in a 56-mile perimeter in and near northern Creek County. It burned 58,500 acres, officials said Monday.
Firefighters and a National Guard helicopter continued to try and extinguish the blaze after it reignited Monday afternoon, the state Department of Emergency Management said.
A National Guard helicopter also was sent to assist with water drops at a fire Monday afternoon in the Payne County town of Yale, the agency said.
Four fires were burning in Okmulgee County, including one near Nuyaka and one near Morris on Monday. Two others were in Pawnee County, one south of Cleveland and another four miles west of Jennings.
Authorities were aware of no deaths in northeast Oklahoma, but a badly burned body was discovered inside a home near Norman that burned in a fire Friday.
Statewide, more than 93,400 acres have burned since Friday.
State Forester George Geissler said it's not just a coincidence that the wildfires started in the same area that has burned in the past.
In firefighting circles, the area where the fuel of rural grassland meets the ignition opportunities of urban human activity is known as the wildland-urban interface, and it's common for wildfires to start during dry conditions.
The grasslands naturally have a fire-based ecology and people bring with them increased opportunities for fires to start.
Anything from a flat tire running on rims to a misplaced cigarette butt can spark a fire that burns for days, he said.
Oklahoma Forestry Services is attributing the fires to extreme fire behavior, critically dry fuels and extreme weather.
"You have more opportunities as people go into these areas" to live, he said.
"In those areas, it's just more common to have more ignitions."
Portions of Mannford remained without power because of lines and poles that have been damaged in the fires. Some people could be without power for several days, authorities said.
"We know it's probably more" than 70 residences destroyed in Creek County, said state Insurance Commissioner John Doak, based on the information coming in from the insurance companies. "It's tragic."
Doak said the state is still assessing whether to request a federal disaster declaration.
Damage assessments cannot be completed while the fires are still burning, authorities said.
A major disaster declaration from the White House could bring federal assistance, including grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs designed to help both individuals and businesses recover from the disaster.
As residents continued to return to their homes Monday, some found nothing but piles of smoldering rubble.
Scott Byrom and his wife, Rebecca, came home to find that their 1970-built farmhouse in rural Mannford was completely destroyed and unrecognizable.
"It's a bad feeling. I don't wish this on anyone," said Byrom, who was wearing a pair of boots a buddy gave him.
Reports surfaced that looters were pilfering through the debris.
"That's like pulling gold from a dead man's teeth," Byrom said.
Byrom said he will sift through every inch of rubble once it cools.
"I'm going to get every coin, every arrowhead," he said.
Freda Gordon's husband died in May, and Saturday she lost the Mannford home she and her husband had lived in for 30 years.
"Friday night I left. I knew if it crossed the highway, it wouldn't be long until it got to the house," she said.
Gordon was at the state Insurance Department command station at Lake Church in Mannford to inquire about coverage.
She is waiting for her insurance company to pay living expenses.
"I'm more fortunate than others, but it's just a lot to cope with," she said.
Plans were under way for a shelter at Lake Church. There was also free food and clothing for fire victims available.
Some of the major insurance companies, State Farm and Farmer's, were also set up at the site and Oklahoma's attorney general warned victims to beware of potential scams.
Doak estimated about 100 people had been by the Insurance Department's command station by noon Monday.
As of Monday afternoon, Farmers Insurance had received fewer than 70 claims related to the wildfires, said John Lucido, Farmers Oklahoma state executive director.
While some homes were burned to the ground, others sustained minor to moderate damage, said Lucido, noting that it's too early to know the dollar amount of the damage.
In Mannford, a Farmers Mobile Catastrophe Claims bus has been set up at the office of Farmers agent Kent Russell at 200 W. Trower Blvd from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., to help Farmer's customers and victims of the fire for as long as needed.
State Farm Insurance spokesman Jim Camoriano noted that 33 homeowner claims and two vehicle claims had been filed statewide with the insurer as of early Monday afternoon.
"Out of those 33, 31 of those are completely destroyed. They are total losses," Camoriano said. "We're not talking partial burns. These homes are gone."
Most of the claims State Farm is seeing are from Mannford, Luther and Norman. State Farm has about 25 claims representatives in the field and people on standby if needed, he said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved the state's request for Fire Management Assistance Grants for seven recent wildfires.
The grants will help reimburse local governments, volunteer fire departments and other first responders for costs associated with responding to the fires, the Department of Emergency Management said.
The grants were secured for the July 30 fire in Stillwater, Thursday's fire in Geary, Friday's fires in Luther, Norman/Noble/Slaughterville and Creek County, and Saturday's fires in Drumright and Glencoe.
Six National Guard helicopters dropped hundreds of thousands of gallons of water on wildfires across the state over the weekend. And two helicopters were deployed again on Monday to fight fires in Creek and Payne Counties.
National Guard Chinooks and Blackhawks were deployed from Tulsa and Lexington. They dropped 387,000 gallons of water on Saturday and likely dropped significantly more Sunday, said Oklahoma Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Max Moss.
"I anticipate the total number of gallons dropped over the weekend will be close to a million," said Moss.
Moss said more water was dropped Sunday because the fire lines were closer to available water sources. That meant shorter flights for pilots making round trips from the water to the fire.
"They are the best of the best the military has. They are very skilled at fighting fires," Moss said of the pilots flying the CH-47 Chinooks and UH-60 Blackhawks that supported firefighters on the ground.
The Oklahoma Guard has six helicopters available for fighting fires, but in recent weeks - when fires have burned across the state - usually one or two have been deployed, Moss said.
That changed Saturday and Sunday, when the six helicopters dropped water on fires in Creek, Cleveland, Oklahoma, Payne and Pittsburg Counties, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.
If a decision was made to call in more helicopters than Oklahoma has available, there are agreements with neighboring states to provide assistance, Moss said.
Commanders on the ground make the request for air support, Moss said. They notify the Emergency Management Department, which contacts the National Guard with instructions on where to deploy air support.
On Monday, two helicopters were on standby; and when that's the case, "we can get that bird in the air within an hour," Moss said.
The clouds over the fires - pyrocumulus clouds - may have looked familiar, said Bart Haake, Tulsa National Weather Service meteorologist.
"They basically look like cumulus clouds, but they come from the smoke from fires," Haake said.
The clouds appear on radar, which may have confused some viewers watching for rain on weather reports this weekend.
However, Haake said there is no confusion when it comes to whether or not these clouds produced the weekend's area storms: They didn't.
"We had a cold front coming through," Haake said. "That was the source of the thunderstorms we had Saturday evening."
- ALTHEA PETERSON
Tulsa temperatures (as of 6 p.m.)
Days reaching the 100s: 29*
Monday's high: 102
Monday's low: 67
Tuesday's forecast high: 102
Tuesday's forecast low: 75
Monday's rainfall: None
August's rainfall: 0.35
August's average rainfall: 0.54**
* Since summer began June 21
** Through Aug. 6
Source: National Weather Service
Statewide burn ban information
Source: Oklahoma Forestry Services
Consumer protection information
Attorney General Scott Pruitt warned of possible "schemes and scams" following the fires. The office said residents should make sure home-repair companies and charities are legitimate. For more information, tips and resources, go online to tulsaworld.com/okagconsumer or call the Public Protection Unit at 405-521-2029.
Creek County residents' efforts keep burned horse alive, but its survival outlook uncertain
MANNFORD - Residents on Monday rescued a horse that was found burned and lying down following this weekend's wildfires.
"I hate to say it. But they'll probably put him down," said Kelly Farmer, who guided the horse back to his own corral after notifying the Humane Society.
Farmer lost a boat and camper but was miraculously spared from losing his residence to the weekend's wildfires.
Billy Palmore had discovered the injured horse staggering down the road and Farmer was ready to help.
But as the heat poured on, the horse went down. That prompted efforts from Farmer, Palmore and neighbor Belinda Wheeler of Olive, to keep the horse alive.
"We gotta get him up. Come on baby, you gotta get up," she said.
Wheeler managed to get a halter on the horse and the three people struggled to get the horse to its feet, into a trailer and on to emergency help.
"Once they lay down like that, they get pneumonia and die," Wheeler said.
Wheeler said she can be reached at 918-327-4392 if anyone needs help with an injured horse.
How to help
American Red Cross: Accepting financial donations only, at tulsaworld.com/okokredcross, or by texting REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Checks also can be mailed to American Red Cross, Dept. 995, Tulsa, OK 74182.
Salvation Army: The best way for people to donate is to go to the website: tulsaworld.com/disastersalvationarmy. The donation will be used in the wildfire disaster. Or they can mail a check to The Salvation Army, PO Box 397, Tulsa, OK 74101, or bring a check by the office at 924 S. Hudson, Tulsa, Ok 74112 and note "OK Disaster" on the check.
Tulsa SPCA: The Tulsa Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is collecting animal relief supplies for the fire victims in Creek County. Donations can be taken to its Mobile Adoption Center in the parking lot of Drysdale's, 3220 S. Memorial Road from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Needed items include pet crates, pet food, blankets, towels and food bowls. Monetary donations can be dropped off at the Mobile Adoption Center or mailed to 2910 Mohawk Blvd., 74110.
Sand Springs United Methodist Church, Fourth and Main streets in Sand Springs, is accepting donations. Lakechurch in Mannford is collecting donations at Oklahoma 51 and 48.
A donation site for hay and feed for livestock has been set up at the Creek County Fairgrounds, at 17808 W. Oklahoma 66, Kellyville.
Individuals interested in donating or receiving hay or feed should contact Sherman Grubb, Creek County extension educator, at 918-224-2192.
Feed for cattle and horses is needed most.
World Staff Writer Laurie Winslow and World Senior Writer Wayne Greene contributed to this story.
Susan Hylton 918-581-8381
Peyton Thomas, 5, on Monday stands at what is left of his great-grandparents' home that was destroyed by a wildfire near Mannford. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Scott Byrom views what is left of his Creek County home after it was destroyed by a wildfire. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Dwight Pilant on Monday works to clean and salvage items at a friend's home that was destroyed by a wildfire in Creek County. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Decorations still adorn a stove at Scott Byrom's home that was destroyed by a wildfire. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
A dog on Monday walks by its home that was destroyed by a wildfire near South 337th West Avenue and Oklahoma 33. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Belinda Wheeler works to get a horse back to his feet near Mannford on Monday. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
At left, Kelly Farmer and Billy Palmore work to get the horse to stand up and to Wheeler's trailer for medical attention on Monday. The horse was burned in recent wildfires and found wandering in the area. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World