Aid for Creek County fire victims OK'd
BY SUSAN HYLTON World Staff Writer
Thursday, August 23, 2012
8/23/12 at 10:16 AM
See photo slideshows of the fire and its damage, view aerial video from Saturday’s inferno and read previous stories.
MANNFORD - An announcement that federal assistance has been approved for Creek County wildfire victims came late Wednesday, a day displaced residents had spent anguishing over whether they would be able to return to their burned-out properties.
Reached by phone Wednesday evening, Mannford Town Administrator Mike Nunneley responded to the news: "I think that's fantastic. I think that's the only way we were going to be able to recover."
Nunnelly said that when 85 percent of the people whose homes were destroyed by the fires didn't have insurance, any kind of recovery is very difficult.
"At least these people will have some hope that they have something to live in."
The federal disaster aid declaration makes assistance available to individuals and businesses who were affected by the Creek County fires early this month.
Oklahomans who suffered uninsured fire damage in Creek County are eligible for assistance for housing repairs or temporary housing, U.S. Small Business Administration low-interest loans for individuals and businesses to repair or replace damaged property, disaster unemployment assistance and grants for serious needs and necessary disaster expenses not met by other programs, Gov. Mary Fallin's office announced.
Before the announcement came, hundreds of residents who were left homeless by the wildfires were waiting to hear whether they would receive any assistance from the federal government to help them get back on their feet.
"It's been almost three weeks, and people are living in ashes and tents," Nunneley said earlier Wednesday.
Many of the fire victims are unemployed and don't have insurance to start the recovery process.
In Creek County, 20 families - representing about 50 people - are staying in tents, campers and trailers at Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds at Brush Creek and Salt Creek on Lake Keystone.
The town of Mannford has five sites at New Mannford Ramp where other families devastated by the wildfires are camping. Countless others are staying in tents and trailers at their burned-out home sites.
"It's terrible," said Billie Jo Tilley at the corps' Brush Creek campsite, where she is staying with her husband, Phillip Holbrook. "It's depressing."
Tilley's spirits were lifted Wednesday evening, though, when the Tulsa World informed her of the disaster declaration.
"It's going to be a relief, and hopefully they'll build us a house and everybody else," Tilley said by phone.
Holbrook said earlier in the day that his sister, who lives out of state, had bought them an old camper for temporary lodging.
"I've been trying to get him to take me camping," Tilley quipped.
"I don't camp," Holbrook responded.
There was a hole in the camper's roof, but he wasn't complaining. He was able to repair it himself.
Outside the camper, bags of donations, food and supplies were piling up. Other supplies are being kept in a tent.
Churches, in particular, have been good about following up with those living at the campgrounds to make sure they and their pets have enough to eat.
"A lot of people have been helping," Tilley said. "It shows there are still good people in the world."
While the wildfire devastation has brought out mostly goodness and generosity in the community, at times it has turned ugly.
Holbrook said looters stole scrap metal from his property and ran over his dog.
Tilley and Holbrook are anxious to move back to the rural Mannford property where Holbrook has lived since 1965. Two uninsured houses on the property were destroyed.
"We're hoping to get some assistance to rebuild our house or get a trailer to live in," Holbrook said.
His truck also was destroyed in the fire, so the couple are relying on friends for transportation right now.
Charles Daub has been living in a tent at Brush Creek with friends and family, four dogs and several kittens since Aug 4.
To add insult to injury, his campsite blew away during a recent storm and had to be reassembled.
He said his home was not insured because he was trying to keep up with doctor bills.
Daub lived on Kennyville Road, which he said was actually on fire itself.
"All them homes got it. Everyone of us," he said. "It came over the tops of trees. The electric lines were popping; the propane tanks started blowing."
Holbrook said: "That fire was like nothing I've ever seen. It came through the tops of the trees. The sky was on fire."
Corps spokesman Nate Herring said fire victims have access to electricity and running water at the corps campsites, along with rest room and shower facilities. Some families are in tents, and others are in campers and recreational vehicles.
"If need be, they can stay until the parks close" on Oct. 31, Herring said.
Gene Sanderson has been staying in a camper a friend loaned him at New Mannford Ramp after firefighters pulled him from his truck on Cottonwood Creek.
"It's just a place to lay down," he said of the camper.
All his belongings were in his truck. He has an electric fan and a small refrigerator at his campsite. Sanderson said he is between jobs and that his truck no longer starts.
"I would look for work if I had a vehicle," he said. "You name it right now - I'd do it."
With the exception of Labor Day weekend, when the New Mannford campsite is booked, wildfire victims can stay there as long as they need to, Nunneley said.
If they still need a place to stay on Labor Day, the town will move them to a temporary campsite.
The Creek County wildfires burned more than 58,500 acres, destroyed 376 homes and left 75 Mannford Public Schools students and at least 30 Olive students homeless.
Nunneley said electric service is restored in the burned areas but that connections to houses or temporary living quarters are another story.
That's something he hopes donations through the American Red Cross will be able to help with, he said.
Gov. Mary Fallin urges others to reach out to FEMA
The White House has approved disaster aid for Creek County residents and business owners who were affected by recent wildfires, Gov. Mary Fallin announced Wednesday evening.
Still under consideration is the governor's request for federal aid for Cleveland, Oklahoma and Payne counties, which also sustained significant fire damage.
"Regardless of the county, those with wildfire damage to their homes or businesses should reach out to FEMA and report their losses," Fallin said. "Doing so will help to support the case for additional federal assistance for the many Oklahoma families in need."
All those who have sustained wildfire damage since July 28 are urged to contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or go online at tulsaworld.com/disasterassistance to report their damage. This will help bolster the case for additional counties to be added to the declaration, the Governor's Office said.
How to help
American Red Cross: Accepting financial donations only: Online: tulsaworld.com/okredcross. Text: REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Checks: Mail to American Red Cross, Dept. 995, Tulsa, OK 74182. Phone: Those needing assistance may call 918-831-1100.
Lobeck Taylor Foundation Oklahoma Wildfire Fund: The Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation announced a $100,000 matching grant to double donations to the American Red Cross. The foundation will match donations dollar for dollar to aid in the relief of the wildfires in Creek and Payne counties as the agency continues to assist families that were left homeless.
"We recognize the great needs of these Oklahoma families in the face of the crippling losses, and we want to help," said Elizabeth Frame Ellison, executive director of the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation. "We want to help these families rebuild their lives in Oklahoma, and we hope that this matching grant will inspire other foundations, businesses and individuals to step forward, as well."
Frame Ellison added: "We feel like that's what Oklahomans do when we're down. We try to support each other." She noted that the Red Cross's assistance with the wildfires will be significant and well more than $500,000.
The challenge grant started Wednesday and will last four weeks. Those wishing to donate can make a secure donation online at tulsaworld.com/tulsacf, click the "Give Now" tab and select the Oklahoma Wildfire Fund (under Section 2, your information) from the "Fund Name" drop-down list. Donations may also be submitted by check payable to Tulsa Community Foundation, Oklahoma Wildfire Fund; mail to: Tulsa Community Foundation, 7030 S. Yale Ave, Tulsa, OK 74136. Please contact Steffanie Bonner (918-494-8823) at the Tulsa Community Foundation for additional information.
Salvation Army: Online: tulsaworld.com/disastersalvationarmy The donation will be used in the wildfire disaster. Checks: Mail to The Salvation Army, P.O. Box 397, Tulsa, OK 74101, or bring to 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. Needed items include pet crates, pet food, blankets, towels and food bowls. Monetary donations can be mailed to 2910 Mohawk Blvd., Tulsa, OK, 74110.
Original Print Headline: Aid for Creek County OK'd
Susan Hylton 918-581-8381
Phillip Holbrook and Billie Jo Tilley sit at their campsite at Brush Creek near the Keystone Dam, where they have been staying since their home was destroyed by wildfire early this month. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World
Charles Daub holds a kitten he saved from the wildfire that destroyed his home in Creek County earlier this month. His temporary home is at a campsite at Brush Creek near the Keystone Dam. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World
Gene Sanderson sits outside a loaned camper where he is staying at New Mannford Ramp on Keystone Lake on Wednesday. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World
Donations, including clothing, food and supplies, sit outside at Phillip Holbrook and Billie Jo Tilley's campsite on Wednesday. Their home near Mannford was destroyed by wildfires earlier this month. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World