GUTHRIE — Amber Knox saw the flames and told her father to leave his mobile home tucked away in thick brush on the outskirts of town. He wouldn’t.
Instead, Johnnie Knox, 56, the man identified by family members as the person who died in the Logan County fire late Sunday, lent his truck to a neighboring family so they could retreat to safety.
It was a selfless act that provided little solace for his daughter, who was on hands and knees Monday sorting through the charred remains of her childhood. A half-melted swing set, a stuffed lion and a figurine of a bear hugging a crescent moon were a few of the only discernible items not completely destroyed in the blaze.
“He called me and I tried to tell him to go, all the neighbors did, too, but he’s stubborn,” Amber Knox said. “Now, I’ve come to see if there’s anything left of it.”
The Knox family and thousands of other Logan County residents are facing the aftermath and pending danger of a wildfire that began about about 4 p.m.Sunday southeast of Guthrie 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 30 structures, including six homes, Guthrie Fire Chief Eric Harlow said.
Unseasonably high temperatures and low humidity are expected to continue through Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service, as fire crews continue battling flareups and investigators look into how the wildfire was sparked.
Roughly 150 homes were threatened as the blaze continued moving north on Monday. More than 200 firefighters from about 40 departments across the state, as far away as Tulsa, joined forces to help extinguish the flames.
However, little progress was made in controlling the fire.
The estimate of 75 percent containment held steady into Monday evening, Harlow said.
“Our area of concern, as its been from the origin, is the north side of this fire,” Harlow said. “When the wind’s picking up and the temperature’s coming up, humidity has dropped on us this afternoon, we have had some fire behavior break out on the north end. We’ve got crews addressing that.”
Part of those efforts included aid from the Oklahoma Army National Guard, who supplied three Black Hawk helicopters equipped with buckets for water drops.
There were steady water supplies five to six miles from the burn site, Harlow said.
The Salvation Army was stationed at the command center, on Seward Road east of I-35, providing food and drink to first responders and displaced residents. Emergency Medical Services Authority treated and released 37 firefighters for heat and smoke-related injuries, spokeswoman Lara O’Leary said.
Two people were brought to local hospitals for injuries related to the fires, the state Health Department reports.
Two of 22 buildings at Central Christian Camp were destroyed in the fire, the organization’s director confirmed.
Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency for all of Oklahoma and a burn ban in 36 counties at a noon news conference.
“This is the biggest fire I’ve ever been on, and it moved the fastest I’ve ever seen,” said David Ball, emergency management director for Logan County and the city of Guthrie.
“We’ve had some big fires, but this one was massive.”
Controlled burn investigation
The wildfire is believed to have started as a controlled burn that spread with the help of high temperatures and wind speeds mixed with low humidity.
The area was not under a burn ban when the fire started, however, it was set without a burn permit.
It started southeast of Guthrie in the vicinity of S Pine Street between Forest Hills Road and E Seward Road, Ball said.
It burned to the northeast about five or six miles, staying east of I-35.
Because the controlled burn originated outside of city limits in the Woodcrest Fire Department’s district, it did not require any type of permit.
“We can kindly request that they notify their local fire department,” Harlow said.
“But that’s the only thing we can do.”
No local fire authorities were notified of the controlled burn, Harlow said.
The state Agriculture Department and the state fire marshal’s office are leading the investigation into where the fire began and who started it.
The high temperature in Oklahoma City exceeded 94 degrees by early Monday afternoon, breaking a daily state record.
The National Weather Service predicts temperatures to stay in the 90s until at least Wednesday before a weather system bringing possible rainfall enters the state.
“As we get later into the week, we are going to start seeing a gradual increase in our humidity, but still not at the point yet where we can ignore the threat of wildfires, which is why we have that risk into Wednesday,” said Forrest Mitchell, of the National Weather Service’s Norman forecast office.
“Winds are going to stay brisk from a southerly direction through Wednesday, averaging 15 to 20 mph and there will be occasional higher gusts above 30 mph during the day Tuesday.”
Similar weather conditions across the state has aided the growth of at least three other reported wildfires.
Knox family recovers
Johnnie Knox was a lifelong truck driver who was affectionately called “Papa” by his seven grandchildren.
His brother, Jackie Knox, 52, said Johnnie Knox looked the part of the gruff, well-traveled trucker, but it hardly defined him.
“Johnny on the outside ... you would think he was an old bear,” Jackie Knox said.
“But on the inside, he was as soft as a little kid. And he’d give you the shirt off his back.”
He spent much of the latter years of his life mostly solitary, enjoying the company of his dog, Jackie Knox said, but would light up whenever family would visit.
Amber Knox said investigators told her Johnnie Knox died of smoke inhalation, a relatively painless death.
But she said it’s little consolation. When asked what happens next, her response was followed by tears.
“I don’t know,” Knox said. “Without my dad, I don’t know.”
Contributing: Staff Writer Kyle Schwab