Oklahoma wildfires: Residents get back to their lives while remembering the worst
GLENCOE — Marie Montelongo doesn't have time to get sentimental about the possessions she lost after her home burned to the ground.
Montelongo had ducks to save from the heat, a fence line to run and cattle to find after a wildfire ravaged the family's 200-acre Spanish Spur ranch in rural Glencoe Saturday, she said Sunday.
“At this point you just have to figure out what you can do to save what you have,” said Montelongo, covered in soot from rebuilding a charred pen for the ducks.
She's grateful to have a place to stay at her parents' home, untouched by the fire just a few hundred yards away, she said. She and her husband, Oscar, also saved four dogs, four horses and cars before the smoke and fire overran the ranch roughly 80 miles northeast of Oklahoma City.
Weary residents drove on rural Glencoe roads Sunday morning, assessing damage from fires that appeared to have hopscotched over an expansive charred landscape. Hay bales and utility poles spit small flames and smoked amid ashy white and black remains of pasture, forest and the occasional structure.
Around forty miles southeast, officials in Drumright struggled with dwindling resources after beating back a fire that surrounded the town on three sides Saturday. The fires threatened two elementary schools, shut down a hospital and nursing home and prompted an evacuation, Drumright Mayor Deborah Bright said. Eleven structures, including six houses, were burned in Saturday wildfires that came within a block of her house, Bright said.
A wildfire evacuation called for the town of about 3,000 was lifted overnight Saturday. That afternoon, residents were still waiting for both water and power. The hospital remained closed, with patients transferred to nearby Cushing.
The Oak Grove subdivision just outside the Drumright city limits had some of the heaviest damage.
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Jonathan Bell, who lives with his family in a trailer on his mother-in-law's property, said his home was spared and so was that of his mother-in-law, who lives in what was once a Baptist church. His wife's grandmother and uncle were not so fortunate; their nearby house burned to the ground.
Bell said he could see the fire surrounding them on four sides as they packed up boxes of family photos before evacuating on Saturday to his place of business in downtown Cushing.
“As the fire was coming I stopped and prayed,” Bell said. “Now we've just got to get power,” he said Sunday after returning to his home.
Gov. Mary Fallin stopped in Drumright Sunday after touring by air a 56-mile long fire line during a Sunday damage assessment, including the hard-hit Mannford area, she said at the Drumright Fire Department.
Fallin noted there are no reports of loss of life and injuries to firefighters have been minor.
“But we're still in the processing of assessing it and looking at some of the areas where we've had some of the bigger grass fires in the rural remote areas,” she said. “It's been extremely difficult this week.”
In Mannford, like other towns with evacuations lifted, residents came home Sunday morning to see what was left.
But many couldn't get the memory of escaping the flames out of their minds.
Midafternoon Saturday, Tom Jolly had been lying down, thinking the fires were moving away from his house on the western outskirts of town. He couldn't smell smoke anymore. He couldn't see flames.
Then somebody pounded on the front door. “It's coming. You have 15 minutes.”“We have to get out,” his wife told him. “Now.”She threw some family photos in a sack. Grabbed a change of clothes. And headed for the car. Then Christel Jolly remembered her makeup bag, and turned around. Five minutes had passed. Fires were burning in the yard. The treetops were shrouded in smoke. “We don't have time to get makeup,” her husband yelled. As they sped away Saturday, the fire was raging on both sides of the driveway.“It warped the paint on the side of the car,” Christel said. “We could feel the heat inside. Another minute or two and we wouldn't have gotten out.”At Lake Church, near the intersection of state highways 48 and 51 west of Mannford, Pastor Greg Hurd made few phone calls to some of the larger congregations in Tulsa. Maybe they could round up a few donations, bottles of water, a little food. The Mannford police soon designated the church as the central hub for all donations. And by midafternoon Sunday, volunteers were sorting clothes and toiletries in the parking lot, with a line of cars full of more stuff, arriving faster than church members could unload it.“We don't know where it's all coming from,” said Karen Hurd, the pastor's wife and an associate pastor herself. “People are just showing up.”Sandra Jordan and her husband were first evacuated Friday, only to get the all-clear to come back Saturday. Before long, they had to leave again. On Sunday, Jordan was sitting in a lawn chair in front of a blackened patch of ground where her house used to be. She now owns a tank top, a pair of shorts and flip-flops. And a lawn chair.“I don't know what we're going to do,” she said. “I have no idea.”
CONTRIBUTING: Michael Overall, Tulsa World