Thursday afternoon we had driven to Norman to do some shopping, and as we were driving to Academy Sports to purchase shoes for my children for the first day of school, we looked back toward our home and saw a giant plume of smoke.
My family and I live in a very heavily forested area, surrounded by blackjack, oak, hickory, and cedar trees to name a few. Somehow (and the reasons range from deliberate arson to a cigarette carelessly flung from a car window) a fire began burning south of us and because of the strong winds and extremely dry conditions, eventually burned almost 8000 acres (52,000 state wide).
We were evacuated by the police, and lived at my wife's aunt and uncle's house for the entire weekend. Today we will finally get to go home, but yesterday was the most tense. The local news services were absolutely useless. They reported on the town of Luther and several other fires, when more homes were lost in the Cleveland county fire than the other two fires combined, and it was the last fire to be finally extinguished.
My wife's uncle did not have Wifi and only had Dial Up Internet, and the 3G signal was very weak, but I used up all of my data plan listening to the Cleveland County Fire band on an app called "5-0 Scanner Free". On Saturday the firemen were talking about the road that leads to my edition and on Sunday they were talking about my road and my driveway, not to mention my wife's grandmother's house which is right down the road from us (Grandma is uninsured). Waiting around, listening as firemen go into "structure protection mode" is very tense, and my nerves were extremely frayed. I don't think my stomach has settled down in three days. It put stress on all of us as
we sat helplessly listening to the fate of nearly everything we owned. I would like to thank the Slaughterville and Norman Fire Departments for insuring that our homes did not suffer damage. Those men are amazing.
Everything ended up rosy for us, but there are at least 25 homes at last count that burned to the ground in the area. There is a relief effort, and we will be pitching in our help for this, but this event makes me think very carefully about what I have and how quickly it can be taken from me. I told myself that it was all replaceable, but at the same time fretted over my collectibles, my wife's tea sets, my kid's toys. The most important thing in all this is that none of my family were injured (maybe our pride), and we still have each other, and after all, whether you believe it or not, God worked some miracles.
I am including a picture of my mother's riding lawnmower (below) as a case in point. My mother lives in a house with cedar siding and a composite roof and the fire burned all around her yard, creeping up to 25 feet from her back door. I went to her house (sneaking back through the evacuation lines) to assess the damage since she lives alone and was staying at a friend's house. I arrived at 5:45am, and as I topped the hill to turn down her driveway, I looked to the end of her dead-end road to see a 10 foot flame burning in the woods, moving away from me. I went into the back yard, hooked up the water hose, and started putting out spot fires everywhere. Mom soon arrived with a friend, and as we were looking at the ashy remains of a giant cedar tree, I saw the riding lawnmower sitting behind the shed near the woods without the blue tarp I had draped across it when I last used it. I ran to it in fear, thinking that it was surely damaged since all the grass and trees around it had been burned horribly. There sat the tractor, the two 4x4 posts I used to weight down the tarp blackened and smoldering on the ground, the tarp rings laying in the charred grass, without a scratch or burn mark on it.
Mom's comment said it all: "This is a message," she said. "God was keeping watch over my house and chose to spare it." I will be helping the people who were not spared. I hurt for them. This was such a hard thing for our community to endure. We will recover, we will rebuild, and we will band together as people. It's what Oklahomans do best.
- Oklahoma Wildfire 2012: Wind-Whipped Fires Destroy Homes (PHOTOS) (huffingtonpost.com)
- Wild fires in Cleveland County and Eastern OK County; Luther areas (kfor.com)
- Raging Oklahoma Wildfires Burn Homes, 52,000 Acres (ibtimes.com)
- Oklahoma wildfires: Mild weather controlled most blazes, but not in Creek County (newsok.com)