Stillwater News Press

August 3, 2013

Community pulls together to help man caught in 2012 wildfire

By Megan Sando
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — Panic surged through Bret Franzmann’s brain as he watched a wildfire leap toward his mobile home a little more than a year ago.

Franzmann and his pets escaped the July 30, 2012, wildfire that burned nearly 200 acres east of Stillwater. His home on Wooten Lane in Villa Estates and nearly everything in it was destroyed.

The wildfire remains a clear memory as he rebuilds his life today with help from his friends and the Stillwater community.

Dancing flames

Franzmann thought he heard sirens outside his mobile home on July 30, 2012, but the air conditioning was loud and he wasn’t sure until he peered out a window.

“The fire was already in the yard, and it was coming fast,” Franzmann said. “I went outside and tried to turn the hose on but the nozzle fell off, and the fire was surrounding me.”

Franzmann raced inside and tried to find his cats. Barefoot with one cat stuffed into its cat crate, he made it outside to safety and watched the wildfire.

“What was wild about it was that the fire was in the air and the wind was blowing hard,” he said. “I could see sparks blow in the air and wherever they landed a small fire would break out and start spreading into a huge fire.”

Franzmann was allowed to watch from a safe distance as a firefighter assessed the situation. He was evacuated to safety when a pump truck arrived to battle the wildfire.

Franzmann lost both his cars and $25,000 in musical instruments, including an 1860-vintage violin and several collector’s guitars. The performer and music teacher also lost years of lesson material and decades of musical history.

 Peggy Cox, who shared the home with Franzmann, wasn’t home when the fire swept through.

“I saw a huge line of flames, and I thought, it’s gone,” Cox said.

And it was. They recovered a few personal items, but that’s all.

Firefighters went into the home and rescued the remaining cats, four instruments and a collection of Franzmann’s family heirlooms, including old photos, glasses, a broach and a glove that belonged to his grandparents.  

“If I had to pick one thing to save that would have been it,” Franzmann said.

The road back

Franzmann was overwhelmed. Everything was gone and he wasn’t sure how he was going to rebuild his life.

Lifelong friend Randy Wick, a Stillwater real estate agent, called. Wick took control and came through.

“Without him, I’d probably still be sitting on a pile of rubble,” Franzmann said.

Donations were set up through Paypal. They raised nearly $6,000. A benefit at a Stillwater restaurant raised another $6,000. A benefit at a Tulsa bar added another $1,000 to the cause.

The money was enough to pay for half of the replacement mobile home that Franzmann said he got a good deal on thanks to Wick.

Cleanup took a week. Close friends were able to have Franzmann and Cox stay at their home during that week.

For a short time, Wick loaned Franzmann a camper with room for his pets.

Cox talks about the camper optimistically because in no time the new mobile was set up.

“If you’re going to have something happen, it’s here,” she said. “They’ll really get you going again. I remember we moved in that night and had dinner. It was amazing. It was a miracle.”  

Habitat ReStore helped the couple with $500 worth of appliances.

The Red Cross helped with money and toiletry items. The community came through with furniture, clothes, dishes and food.

People came out of the woodwork — old classmates and friends — to help.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been a year,” Franzmann said. “We want to thank family, friends and everyone who pitched in.”