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Fire officials hope rain will finally end lingering Oklahoma blazes

BY SONYA COLBERG and BRYAN DEAN Modified: April 12, 2009 at 2:30 pm •  Published: April 12, 2009
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photo - Todd Sewell walks through what is left of his Midwest City home, 11533 Berkshire Court, on Saturday. PHOTO BY NATE BILLINGS, THE OKLAHOMAN
Todd Sewell walks through what is left of his Midwest City home, 11533 Berkshire Court, on Saturday. PHOTO BY NATE BILLINGS, THE OKLAHOMAN
As those who lost homes in Thursday’s wildfires continued picking up the pieces Saturday, firefighters battled resurgent blazes and tried to find out who started one of the devastating fires.

Residents in one Midwest City neighborhood evacuated their homes briefly Saturday when a fire near Anderson Road and Reno Avenue flared up. Meanwhile, investigators were looking for whoever set Thursday’s fire that destroyed about 70 homes in Midwest City and Choctaw.

The fire started in a field north of a wrecker service near SE 29 and Post Road. The cause of the fire is unknown.

"We don’t know if there was intent, but we’re 100 percent confident this is people-set,” said Midwest City Fire Marshal Jerry Lojka. "We can’t find anything accidental.”

The next phase will be to interview people who live in the area, including in Parkway Mobile Home Park. The park is just east of Barnes Wrecker Service.

Investigators don’t think that wrecker service workers are responsible for the fire because there weren’t any employees near when the blaze started. Lojka said the fire ignited near a junior high and high school, and firefighters have fought wild fires in the field before that were set by children.

"We’re not pointing the finger at kids,” Lojka said. "It could be an adult. It could be anybody at this point in time.”

Digging through the ashes
As fire officials tried to find out who was to blame, residents in the devastated area confronted their losses.

Todd Sewell worked the graveyard shift at Tinker Air Force Base before going home to sleep. A short time later, he awoke to pandemonium.

"The house is full of smoke, and the fire alarm’s going off,” he said.

Sewell shook his head Saturday in disbelief.

"I’m glad I can talk about it because I might not have woken up,” Sewell said.

The fire left neighboring homes virtually untouched, but it whipped through his house, burning almost everything but the tips of his new steel-toed boots.

Wires, some red bricks, black blobs and a foot of soaked drywall muck form the bulk of his house now. The heat melted his steel safe and turned his guns into gray rods.

Sewell and friends Steven Hamilton and Mike Arata on Saturday poked through the remains of thehouse on a hill at 11533 Berkshire Court in Midwest City.

Sewell said his 19-year-old daughter, Kristina, had been planning to move in later this month when she returned from Hawaii. She’d sent boxes of clothes, toys and pictures.

"What’s this?” Arata asked.

Sewell peered at stacks of something with burned edges — folded clothes and parts of toys.

"That’s where the boxes were stacked,” he said. "That is so sad.”

They found Kristina’s baby book, charred so badly that just a few handwritten words were visible: "Love. My Kris. Mom.”

Through much of the search, Sewell seemed upbeat.

He pointed to the black El Camino that somehow made it through the fire just fine.