Stillwater News Press

Local News

August 11, 2012

Glencoe man loses all while saving others

STILLWATER, Okla. — A story of bravery and heartbreak has emerged from the ashes of last weekend’s wildfires near Glencoe.

As flames marched toward Glencoe resident Oscar Montelongo’s home, he tore up brush near his neighbors’ homes and ferried water until his feet blistered from the scorched earth.

While their homes were spared, his was destroyed.

“He is a hero,” neighbor Sandy Kurth said. Kurth’s home was spared after Montelongo stopped the flames by creating fire barriers with his bulldozer.

“It’s unbelievable,” Kurth said, adding he and Montelongo have been neighbors for 15 years.

It started, Montelongo said, when he received a frantic phone call Aug. 4 that the fire was approaching his home. He rushed home and hopped in his bulldozer as his wife, Marie, and daughter, Katherine, began shuttling animals and vehicles out of danger.

Montelongo said he began clearing vegetation around his neighbors’ homes so the flames wouldn’t have fuel. But the fire was getting close.

“I could hear the leaves crackling,” Montelongo said.

A burst of wind hit and he felt the heat on his back.

“I turned around and the fire was right there,” he said. He kept working around his father-in-law’s home and neighbors’ homes and his own home, dodging flames as the wind shifted.

The fire destroyed his barn containing the horse buggy he and Marie used at their wedding. It was getting closer to the home. Montelongo began wetting down grass but it was too late and too hot.

The back porch caught fire. Montelongo wet himself down, put a handkerchief over his mouth and sprinted inside the smoke filled home to see what he could save. A photo of his mother when she was 14 and some other family pictures were all he had time to grab. The windows, he said,  exploded as flames engulfed his home of 23 years.

“All I could do was sit and watch it burn,” he said, adding his family lost everything. He doesn’t have insurance.

His wife and daughter said they comforted Montelongo as they received tearful phone calls.

“The things that matter are OK,” his daughter said, “I was more worried about him.”

Montelongo didn’t sit for long. He said he worked all night with his bulldozer and a five gallon water pail putting out fires. After stopping to rest he realized he couldn’t stand up because the hot ground had blistered his feet.

Montelongo refuses to call himself a hero. He said the firefighters who worked beside him are the true heroes. He just says he is a good neighbor.

He reckons his home could have been saved if he hadn’t saved others’ homes, but has no regrets.

“I love my neighbors and wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world,” Montelongo said.

“It is still hard,” he said.

He and his family are living at his father-in-laws down the road from the rubble that was his home.

All his hay and grazing land was destroyed so he will likely sell his cattle instead of watching them starve.

He said his neighbors are so grateful they don’t know how to repay him.

He said they have given him money, some hay for his animals and offered to help him rebuild his home when the time comes. Montelongo said he does plan to rebuild.

“It will be brick with a steel roof,” he said.

Montelongo said those who want to help can donate hay to help him keep his animals.

The fire burned 2,000 acres and destroyed at least 17 homes, fire officials said. The Payne county Sheriff’s Department said the cause of the fire is being investigated and could have been due to activity from a nearby pipeline.

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