CHOCTAW — "I spent so much time playing in this yard,” Carrie Wertz said Friday, looking out on the Choctaw property her family has owned since before she was born.
When she was little, the yard seemed bigger — and exactly the same green as the plastic grass in Easter baskets. The rural land was a vast playground, and on days when the Oklahoma wind picked up, the branches would shudder on the towering oak tree in the back yard, dappling the lawn with moving shadows.
She met her husband on that lawn, back when they were children. Kenneth Wertz was her brother’s best friend, and Kenneth and Carrie chased each other around 1480 S Anderson Road from kindergarten to adulthood.
They’re tied to this piece of earth. Both grew up on it, one way or another. Carrie’s mother still owns it. And until Thursday, Carrie and Kenneth were raising their four kids upon it.
Then the wind came, rattling the oak tree and carrying blazing embers from the wildfire ravaging the Oakwood East housing addition in Midwest City, just one major road to the west.
Racing the flames
About 11 a.m., Shirley Jeanson felt the first stirrings of concern. A fire was burning somewhere west of her brick Oakwood East home.
A male relative checked it out. He could see smoke, but it seemed far enough away that he didn’t think they had to worry. By 1:30 p.m., though, police were pounding on doors up and down the block. The blaze was approaching. Residents had to leave.
"I pulled out of that driveway,” Jeanson said, "and there was fire on both sides of me. I got to thinking, ‘What if it all blows up?’”
A short time later, LaRay Brown’s daughter called from Lawton, wanting to chat. Brown had been napping at her home at 1100 Pacific in Choctaw, and she told her daughter to call back in 15 minutes so she’d be less groggy.
"She called back and asked if we could talk now,” Brown said, "and I said, ‘No, we can’t talk. The whole dadgum neighborhood’s on fire!’”
Staring out the front door, Brown, 44, could see a wall of smoke and flame leaping forward. It tore through underbrush and trees on its way toward her. She hosed down the lawn and the roof, but a small fire erupted on the side of the house. By the time she’d put it out, the main fire was just across the street.
She tossed her dachshund and a neighborhood cat in her vehicle and abandoned the house.
Carrie and Kenneth Wertz and their children weren’t home.
After several years of living in her parents’ old house, the Wertzes were moving to a different house.