Wildfire damage statistics growing as fire subsides
BY SUSAN HYLTON World Staff Writer
Sunday, August 12, 2012
8/12/12 at 7:22 AM
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Related Story: Families search for relief after homes lost in fires
MANNFORD - Local volunteer fire departments were back in command of the Freedom Hill wildfire that scorched nearly 60,000 acres in Creek County, but the exact number of homes destroyed was something officials were still hesitant to pin down as damage assessments continued throughout the weekend.
Oklahoma Forestry Services transferred control Friday night back to the local entities that have been working nonstop battling the blaze since Aug. 2.
Freedom Hill Fire Capt. Carolyn Smythe said people were still reporting hot spots on Saturday but that most of it is debris that was still burning well within the 56-mile burn perimeter.
They hadn't battled a "working fire" since Friday, she said.
"I do think it is contained, but mother nature has surprised us with this fire," Smythe said.
On Saturday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management were still working on preliminary damage assessments.
That process started on Thursday and will continue until they have completed assessments in Creek, Oklahoma, Payne and Cleveland counties.
"It's taking longer than expected because it's such a large area," said Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Kelli Cain.
A federal disaster declaration will depend on the number of occupied homes destroyed and particularly the number of uninsured residents with other unmet needs, Cain said.
In terms of size, the Freedom Hill fire in Creek County was the biggest by far with nearly 60,000 acres burned. That doesn't include the thousands of acres that were burned in and around Drumright and Shamrock.
American Red Cross spokeswoman Donita Quesnel said that more than 300 homes have been destroyed in wildfires statewide but that the agency was no longer willing to say how many homes in Creek County were destroyed.
Quesnel said they can no longer vouch for the previous report of 209 destroyed homes in Creek County.
"For a long period of time we were not able to get into all the areas because it wasn't safe to do so. We have teams in the field. It's a very large area and it's going to take some time," Quesnel said.
Quesnel said that more than 200 families statewide have requested assistance.
The Red Cross reported more than 250 overnight stays at Red Cross shelters statewide during the wildfires.
The agency has served more than 32,000 meals, snacks and bottles of water across the state.
Olive Public Schools Superintendent Loren Tackett said that officials counted 160 destroyed dwellings just within the Olive School District.
All area volunteer fire departments - including Freedom Hill, Olive, Oilton, Silver City, Shamrock and Yale - pulled together when the fire broke out the afternoon of Aug. 2.
"Everyone had their own fires, but most were tied into the same fire," said Olive Volunteer Fire Department Fire Chief Tim Howard.
By the evening of Aug. 3, it was traveling dangerously toward residential dwellings, prompting evacuations throughout Mannford, Olive, Bristow and Drumright.
"Conditions were dry and the wind got harder - everything dramatically increased. The wind kept shifting which sent the fire in different directions," Howard said.
Evacuation teams scoured the countryside to ensure that residents got out of their endangered homes. Elderly women were carried to vehicles and rushed from the scene, Howard said.
"That went on through all of Saturday night," Howard said.
Larger fire departments also provided aid including Drumright, Bristow, Cushing, Mannford, Cleveland, Tulsa and many others.
The Freedom Hill Volunteer Fire Department has 13 volunteers - eight men and five women - and a modest amount of equipment: two tankers that carry 2,000 gallons of water, an engine and one grass rig.
Instead of an unlimited water supply from a city fire hydrant, volunteers in rural areas draw water from ponds, pools or they fill up at the rural water district's 8-inch hydrant.
"It would be hard for even Tulsa to fight the fire that we fought," Smythe said.
Smythe is hopeful that the volunteers can go back to their "paying jobs" on Monday because they all took off work to fight fires.
Rainfall would help that scenario. There is a slight chance for thunderstorms on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
"I'm hoping we get a rain. Anything would be appreciated," Smythe said.
A few of the volunteers sustained minor burns. Smythe said they were cared for at the scene and went right back to fighting fires.
Cause still not clear
A Creek County sheriff's detective said Thursday that a discarded lit cigarette might have started the wildfire.
Investigators want to question three men who were at a residence near Oklahoma 48 and Oklahoma 33.
Creek County officials did not respond to calls seeking comment on Saturday.
Smythe said that the residence in question was destroyed in the fire.
Not everyone believes a cigarette could be the sole source for such a widespread fire.
"I don't believe a cigarette caused the problem," Smythe said. "I also spoke with investigators and we all agree it was not a cigarette. I don't know where that came from."
Smythe said that new cigarettes are designed to go out quickly if not continuously drawn on.
"It's been 115 degrees every day and the wind's blowing. A thousand different things can start a fire," Howard said. "Could I say beyond a shadow of a doubt that's what started it? Who knows right now."
A week of firefighting in triple-digit heat and the extent of damage and loss has been draining.
"The emotional toll is going to be significant," Smythe said. "People are so heartbroken for their neighbors and friends. It hurts."
None of the Freedom Hill volunteers lost homes, but some lost barns and a significant amount of farm equipment. A Mannford fireman lost his house, she said.
There are 23 volunteers in the Olive Fire Department.
Howard said they are still estimating the number of homes, occupied and unoccupied, that were destroyed.
Howard said they'll have to find more money to get through the rest of year as the $4,500 operational grant they get each year from the state will be easily spent.
"We've probably spent over $1,500 in fuel over last week," he said.
Howard said that a lot of landowners helped each other and the volunteers. Many have oil wells and access to tank trucks, back hoes, dozers and road graders, which were used to construct a fire line boundary.
"Our main concern through the whole deal was to protect occupied structures so everybody had a home to come home to," Howard said. "It's the right thing to do. You're all there for the same reason to protect the public and prevent any loss of property or loss of lives."
The Oklahoma Forestry Services reports nearly 114,000 acres have burned in fires across the state since July 28, to include:
Caddo County: 3,000 acres
Creek County (Freedom Hills/Mannford/Olive): 58,500 acres
Cushing fire (Payne County): 1,628 acres
Drumright (Creek/Payne counties): 6,493 acres
Glencoe fire (Payne County): 6,887 acres
Luther fire (Oklahoma County): 2,621 acres
Ninnekah fire (Grady County): 6,500 acres
Norman/Noble/Slaughterville fire (Cleveland County): 8,928
Pittsburg County/Lick Creek fire: 3,000
Shamrock fire (Creek County): 3,990 acres
Yale fire (Payne County): 3,500 acres
Days reaching the 100s: 32*
Saturday's high: 94
Saturday's low: 58
Sunday's forecast high: 100
Sunday's forecast low: 68
Saturday's rainfall: None
August's total rainfall: 0.35**
August's average rainfall: 0.90**
* Since summer began June 21
** As of Aug. 10
Source: National Weather Service
Tulsa's water usage was 180.3 gallons on Friday, and voluntary rationing remains in effect.
Mayor Dewey Bartlett's executive order urges customers to limit outside watering to between midnight and noon every other day. Those with odd-address numbers can water on odd-numbered days of the month, and those with even-address numbers can water on even-numbered days of the month.
The restrictions also apply to residents of Jenks, Owasso and Bixby who receive water from the city of Tulsa.
If customers exceed 204 million gallons on consecutive days, Tulsa's rationing order would become mandatory. The rationing will continue until the city deems water demand is consistently below the voluntary trigger point of 197 million gallons.
Here is Tulsa's recent water usage in millions of gallons daily:
Friday's water usage: 180.3
Thursday's water usage: 181.4
Wednesday's water usage: 183.6
Tuesday's water usage: 182.0
Monday's water usage: 182.9
Aug. 5 water usage: 174.8
Aug. 4 water usage: 199.9
Aug. 3 water usage: 199.0
Year's highest usage: 207.3 on July 30
How to help
American Red Cross: Accepting financial donations only at tulsaworld.com/redcrossdisaster or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Checks can be mailed to American Red Cross, Dept. 995, Tulsa, OK 74182. Those needing assistance may call 918-831-1100.
Salvation Army: Donations to be used in the wildfire disaster can be made online at tulsaworld.com/disastersalvationarmy Checks can be mailed to The Salvation Army, P.O. Box 397, Tulsa, OK 74101 or brought to the office at 924 S. Hudson Ave. 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. Needed items include pet crates, pet food, blankets, towels and food bowls. Monetary donations can be dropped off at the Mobile Adoption Center in the parking lot of Drysdale's, 3220 S. Memorial Drive, or mailed to 2910 Mohawk Blvd., Tulsa, OK 74110.
A donation site for hay and feed for livestock has been set up at the Creek County Fairgrounds, 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.
The Tulsa Zoo is taking donations for the Tulsa SPCA to assist animals in need through the end of August. The items most needed are dog and cat food (bags and cans), water dishes for dogs or horses, collars and leashes, horse feed, hay and gently-used blankets.
The Zoo, 6421 E. 36th Street North, will accept donations daily from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call Sarah Floyd at 918-669-6639 for more information.
A statewide arson hotline is in place at 1-866-NO-ARSON (1-866-662-7766). The hotline was established by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry to investigate and prosecute arson. It provides a direct line to the department's Investigative Services Unit, which specializes in the investigation of wildland arson.
Gov. Mary Fallin encourages anyone with information about possible arson to call 1-866-NO-ARSON immediately.
Gov. Mary Fallin issued a statewide burn ban on Aug. 3 that will remain in effect until conditions improve. A state of emergency has been in affect since July 30 due to the extreme drought which allows state agencies to make emergency purchases related to the disaster.
Original Print Headline: 'Worse than you can imagine'
Susan Hylton 918-581-8381
Bob Haase comforts his daughter Naomi as they stand where her room was located in their home that was burned by the wildfires in Mannford. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World
Naomi Haase (left), daughter of associate pastor Bob Haase and Ja'el Schebly, helps unload supplies at the Lake Church donation and relief center in Mannford on Thursday. Haase and her family lost their home and are still helping with the relief effort at the church. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World