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Oklahoma wildfires: Residents get back to their lives while remembering the worst

‘As the fire was coming I stopped and prayed,' said Jonathan Bell, whose Oak Grove neighborhood sustained some of the heaviest damage.
by Juliana Keeping Modified: August 5, 2012 at 10:11 pm •  Published: August 6, 2012

“But we're still in the processing of assessing it and looking at some of the areas where we've had some of the bigger grass fires in the rural remote areas,” she said. “It's been extremely difficult this week.”

In Mannford, like other towns with evacuations lifted, residents came home Sunday morning to see what was left.

But many couldn't get the memory of escaping the flames out of their minds.

Midafternoon Saturday, Tom Jolly had been lying down, thinking the fires were moving away from his house on the western outskirts of town. He couldn't smell smoke anymore. He couldn't see flames.

Then somebody pounded on the front door. “It's coming. You have 15 minutes.”“We have to get out,” his wife told him. “Now.”She threw some family photos in a sack. Grabbed a change of clothes. And headed for the car. Then Christel Jolly remembered her makeup bag, and turned around. Five minutes had passed. Fires were burning in the yard. The treetops were shrouded in smoke. “We don't have time to get makeup,” her husband yelled. As they sped away Saturday, the fire was raging on both sides of the driveway.“It warped the paint on the side of the car,” Christel said. “We could feel the heat inside. Another minute or two and we wouldn't have gotten out.”At Lake Church, near the intersection of state highways 48 and 51 west of Mannford, Pastor Greg Hurd made few phone calls to some of the larger congregations in Tulsa. Maybe they could round up a few donations, bottles of water, a little food. The Mannford police soon designated the church as the central hub for all donations. And by midafternoon Sunday, volunteers were sorting clothes and toiletries in the parking lot, with a line of cars full of more stuff, arriving faster than church members could unload it.“We don't know where it's all coming from,” said Karen Hurd, the pastor's wife and an associate pastor herself. “People are just showing up.”Sandra Jordan and her husband were first evacuated Friday, only to get the all-clear to come back Saturday. Before long, they had to leave again. On Sunday, Jordan was sitting in a lawn chair in front of a blackened patch of ground where her house used to be. She now owns a tank top, a pair of shorts and flip-flops. And a lawn chair.“I don't know what we're going to do,” she said. “I have no idea.”

CONTRIBUTING: Michael Overall, Tulsa World

by Juliana Keeping
Enterprise Reporter
Juliana Keeping is on the enterprise reporting team for The Oklahoman and Keeping joined the staff of The Oklahoman in 2012. Prior to that time, she worked in the Chicago media at the SouthtownStar, winning a Peter Lisagor Award...
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