STILLWATER, Okla. — Emergency responders closed roads and evacuated 50 people from their homes as wildland fires fueled by months of hot temperatures and too little rain swept through eastern Stillwater Monday.
The call came in around 2 p.m. that fires were popping up along State Highway 51 east of Stillwater. By the time some firefighters were released to return to their area departments, some 600 acres had burned. Along with it, several mobile homes, barns, some frame houses, outbuildings and pastures burned.
The fires may have been sparked by a car’s hot exhaust pipes when the car pulled off the road. However, no official cause of the fire was released Monday evening.
“I know that three vacant mobile homes were burned,” said Fire Marshal Trent Hawkins. “Probably several outbuildings.”
Hawkins said no one was injured in the fires that he knew of by Monday evening. He said a Payne County sheriff’s deputy was transported to the hospital, but did not say for what reason. Earlier in the day, an emergency responder manning a roadblock to keep people out of the fire area reported that a car ran the roadblock and hit his knee.
Firefighters from throughout the area responded to the blaze, including units from Stillwater, Glencoe, Ingalls, Pawnee, Coyle, Sumner, Morrison, Rock Township, Bethany, Guthrie and Red Rock.
Hawkins said that approximately 40 agencies from the area were involved.
He said U.S. Forestry Service helicopters dropped water on flames near Fairgrounds Road.
Monday’s temperatures soared to 109 degrees with 20 mph wind gusts.
Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency for all 77 counties in the state because of the drought and the National Weather Service has issued a heat advisory.
As firefighters struggled in triple-digit heat to suppress the fire and save structures, residents scrambled to check on property, pets and loved ones. Several people with horse trailers were called in to rescue horses at east Stillwater stables feared to be in the line of fire.
Few people were allowed beyond roadblocks.
"We are still not allowing public access,” said Hawkins. “It’s too dangerous for emergency responders and there are also power lines that are down in the area.”
Trooper Lt. Jeff Jones said last week’s wildland fire along I-35 and Highway 51 “was larger but this one has more structures that are threatened.” Last Wednesday's fire burned 1,000 acres.
FirefightersMonday had their hands full with two wildfires roaring through. They responded to a fire that spread to the rural Villa Estates mobile home park east of Stillwater and north of Highway 51 on a winding Wooten Lane.
Residents Nesha Comstock and Dakota Gottfried live together, along with three of their small children, in one of the mobile homes.
Comstock and Gottfried said state troopers announced an evacuation and took them to a safe area along Highway 51.
Bret Franzmann also lives in the mobile home park and was evacuated by the highway patrol.
“I live across from (Comstock and Gottfried) and went outside and saw that the fire was going around my home,” said Franzmann. “I never saw my home on fire, but they got me out of there. I saw my next door neighbor’s home on fire. They have a propane tank, and it caught fire and exploded. It went about 50 feet in the air.”
Further east on Highway 51, Peggy Disel was also alerted to the fire.
“I was in the kitchen and I looked (west) and I saw smoke because that hay was catching on fire,” Disel said. “It went straight north on that fenceline and when it got back to the back fence, it was going north but it came back to the east, too, and went all along that back.”
Disel’s husband, Ron, and other relatives assisted firefighters and other workers to extinguish the fire near the home.
“It got pretty close (to the house),” Disel said.
Disel said that other than the burned hay, none of their property was damaged.
Paula Quiring, whose home was in the fire’s path, was told of the blaze by her daughter.
“My daughter called me because my son, who is a paramedic, was out helping south of town with the medic, and he called them and told them to just hang around; that there may be a fire,” Quiring said.
As she arrived home, Quiring said, she saw the fire in a nearby pasture.
“I turned around and saw the flames 30 or 40 feet in the air,” Quiring said.
However, a precaution her husband took due to the excessive heat Oklahoma has experienced recently may have saved their house, she said.
“My husband went out last night, probably because it was going to be so hot today, and he put a sprinkler on the roof,” Quiring said.
When she alerted him to the fire, he instructed her to grab the couple’s four dogs and cat, turn the sprinkler on and leave. Their son's house was destroyed, she said. They lived down the road.
“I saw it coming across my driveway as we were pulling out,” Quiring said.
At the time, her husband was still on the property, watering down the shed. She said she was told that her house was OK and had not sustained any damage.
The family home of Esther Jardot on Fairgrounds Road, south of McElroy, was a total loss. Fire consumed the entire structure that has been in the family's possession for 74 years.
Esther Jardot said that her brother, Leroy Jardot, was living in the house but escaped unharmed.
“This is just terrible,” said a tearful Esther Jardot.
A large fire broke out in grassland west of Reproductive Enterprises Inc. on Prairie Road north of Highway 51. Flames leaped 50 feet in the sky.
“I know at one point early on they were trying to get horses out of the Stillwater Riding Stable,” said Hawkins.
Late in the afternoon, heavy smoke appeared northeast of Disel’s home.
“There are about 10 abandoned mobile homes in that area,” said Disel.
A large brush pile caught fire in pasture land just east of 51 East Industrial on Highway 51.
“It was just a little fire and it wasn’t anything, and then it just blew up,” said company owner Steve Luster.
Separately, Perkins Volunteer Fire Department Chief Joe Barta said a 15-acre grassfire burned in an area northeast of Perkins. He said a couple of outbuildings and a vehicle were burned.
“Conditions are very hazardous, very extreme,” said Barta. “People just need to watch what they're doing. It just takes a small spark, hitting a rock from mowing, a cigarette or anything to start a fire right now.”
The American Red Cross opened a temporary evacuation center at Stillwater’s First United Methodist Church, Seventh and Duck, on Monday for residents displaced by wildland fires.
As Ingalls firefighters wrapped up their efforts to help out in Stillwater Monday evening, they were called home to battle a fire reported near their own fire station.