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May 10, 2014

Residents recount fear, hardships since Logan County wildfire

GUTHRIE — Dennis Ochs considers himself one of the lucky ones who were affected by the wildfire that swept through parts of Logan County this week.

The wildfire came within just 100 yards of his home southeast of Guthrie and burned several outside buildings and about 120 acres of his wheat crop.

Ochs, the son of a former firefighter, said his house would have burned if not for the efforts of firefighters on the ground and the air.

“I am extremely lucky,” Ochs said. “My dad was a fireman and I have been around fires all my life and I have never seen anything like this. The cedars were just exploding. It was amazing how fast it was going. It was a tough 48 hours for my family where nobody slept.”

The wildfires started about 4 p.m. Sunday southeast of Guthrie and east of Interstate 35, and it continued to spread north Monday.

Early estimations indicate as many as 3,500 acres have burned, resulting in the loss of one life and more than 42 structures, including 10 homes, Guthrie Fire Chief Eric Harlow said.

Fire crews from across the region came to help as well as the National Guard who utilized two Blackhawk helicopters dropping water on the flames including those that approached Ochs’ home.

Ochs said his home lost power early Monday morning as the wildfire inched closer to home. He said fire crews asked him to evacuate but he declined citing the need to pen up his cattle and move farm equipment.

“The fire started on Sunday and about 2:45 a.m. on Monday our electricity went out and the fire was surrounding us and we had no water,” Ochs said. “We were dipping water out of the swimming pool and using fire extinguishers to fight it. If it wasn’t for those helicopters dropping water I probably would have lost my cabin and my house. It is a pretty emotional deal when you think you might lose everything you have.”

Tammy and Mikeal Murray were in a similar situation. A fire burned two-thirds of their 16-acre property located 2 miles southeast of Seward Road and I-35.

Tammy Murray said she was in Edmond at the Downtown Edmond Arts Festival when she received a call from her husband about the approaching fire.

“I was in Edmond at the arts festival and my husband was here by himself,” Murray said. “He was talking on the phone and smelled smoke. There was fire just south of us and west of us. It was moving pretty fast.”

Murray said her husband was able to put out the flames near their home, which had lost power Sunday night. A neighbor helped to load their horses into a trailer and move them to a safer location.

“Mikeal put out the fire with buckets and a water hose,” Murray said. “He saved our house. If the porch had ignited we would have lost our home. As the fire traveled, the path got wider. The house directly to the north of us burned to the ground.”

Murray said her home just got power restored Wednesday night. She said either she or her husband have been at the home during the power outage to keep curious onlookers away.

“One of us has been here the whole time,” Murray said. “As soon as the roads were open people started driving up here and looking at where the fire burned. We live on a dead-end road and we have been afraid to leave our home.”

Murray said she is amazed at how much damage has been done by the wildfires.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Murray said.

The Red Cross opened a resource center on Thursday and Friday at Community Church at 512 E. Seward Road to provide a place where those who had been affected by the fires in Logan County could connect with various service organizations to provide any help they may need.

Ochs said he likely will have to purchase hay to feed his cattle because this year’s crop was nearly destroyed.

“Normally by this time of the year I am already cutting hay and I haven’t cut any,” Ochs said. “It is so dry everywhere (getting hay) is going to be a problem. It is a hardship for everyone.”

Ochs said the response and outpouring of support for those affected by the wildfire shows Oklahoma’s true spirit.

“My wife and I counted 24 different towns with fire trucks that were in and out of here helping battle the fires,” Ochs said. “It was amazing how much the community came together and helped.”

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