NORMAN — Editor’s note: Jack Holt is 81 years old and has lived on the same piece of land at Duke and Cedar Lane for 23 years. Holt, a Navy veteran and former owner of Thunderbird Stables, and his wife, Donna, weathered the firestorm that swept southeastern Cleveland County, losing little more than a bit of fence. Variations of this story can be told by countless other Cleveland County residents, but here is the Holts’ story in Jack’s own words.
Aug. 3, 2012, (our anniversary of 49 years).
Donna and I were to be at Tom and Judy’s house in Moore for supper in honor of our anniversary.
A fire had started right after lunch at Maguire Road and 120th. Wind was out of the south, so the fire was coming north toward us. By mid-afternoon, we could see and smell the smoke. At about 5 p.m., Rex Bernard (close friend) called and said they were being evacuated as the fire was about a mile south of them (at Cash Road). Rex, Susan and a neighbor came to our house. They had been here for only 20 minutes when a police car pulled in and told us to evacuate as the fire was headed straight for us. We had previously packed our bags and valuable papers already in the car and took off fast. We went on to Tom’s and Judy’s house and had supper. We arranged to spend the night at Mary Higgins’ house in Norman.
They closed Highway 9 in Norman. They had evacuated a 10-square-mile area. 120th on the west (later to 84th) to 156th on the east. Maguire Road on the south all the way to the lake on the north. They would not even let the media in to take pictures. There was a bad fire in the town of Luther (east of Jones and Oklahoma City) that was being covered at the same time and the media was there so it dominated the news.
We took Mary Higgins to breakfast at I-Hop and spent the rest of the day at her house. Dot Adkins fixed us lunch and Becky, Mary’s daughter, was making chicken enchiladas for us for supper. All this time, we had no idea whether we had a house or not or whether our entire place was burned.
About 4 p.m., we got a call on our cell phone from Mark, our neighbor across the street. He had driven south on 108th to Maguire Road, east to 180th, north to Cedar Lane, then west on Cedar Lane through three roadblocks and was stopped at 132nd (down the hill east of us) by a policewoman from Norman PD.
He said, “Ma’am, I live on the corner up there at Cedar Lane and Duke, I just want to see if my house is still there — I’ll walk in if you will let me.” She said, “No, you can drive.”
He drove up, saw the house was there but his big shed had burned. He then went over to our place and saw that it was OK and called us. He told us how he got in, but we decided to go ahead and have supper with Mary at Becky’s before trying to get to our house by going south on Highway 77 through Noble and east on Maguire.
We did arrive home about 7:30, we stopped by Mark’s house first, across the street. It was burned all around his house and burned his shed and right up to the edge of the road west of us but did not cross the road onto us. It burned south of us to our neighbor’s driveway, but we could see where firemen had extinguished it there. Standing there talking to Mark and a friend, I saw fire shooting high in the air east of our house. It was the home two lots east burning. We rushed home and started hooking up hoses and setting sprinklers along the edge of the woods east and directly in front of the house, shop and barn. We had cleaned up the wooded area in the north pasture along the fence for about 20 feet of all leaves and underbrush so it was a bare ground natural fire break.
The fire burned north from that house and approached the property at the north end of our property first but the firemen said, “Let it burn to the fence, but we will be back to keep it away from your yard and the barn, shed, carport, shop and house.”
That happened about 3 a.m. Sunday morning. It was about 20-30 feet out in the woods as a fire line the full length of the east side on the wooded lot east side of us. All of a sudden, four “brush poppers” showed up and positioned themselves from the shed to the south end of our yard and the firemen went straight out into woods and had the long line of fire out in less than two minutes. They had to come back a couple of more times when it flared up to put out “hot spots.”
Sunday night, Donna stayed up to watch it until 2:30 a.m. and I got up at 1 a.m. for the rest of the night. She had to call them in once to put out a tree trunk burning. We also did the same on Monday night.
The only thing we lost in the fire was the wood corner post at the north end of the pasture.
There were fire trucks and men from over 15 different towns helping to fight the fire. It had jumped Highway 9 and burned 80 percent of the stable’s riding area but did not get close to Cindy’s house or buildings at Thunderbird Stables. Firefighters are credited for that as well as keeping the water tank full for the 24 horses. (She lost all 25 round bales of hay — the horses could not get to the lake).
We did not lose any houses on Duke Drive (our street), nor on Applewood, but several on Sexton on the west side burned.
The house two lots east of us as well as two houses west of us down the hill, two houses across the road from them and the house up west at Sexton and Cedar all burned. That’s six houses here close. One mile east where Rex and Susan live on Cash Road, of the 19 houses in their addition, 13 burned to the ground, including (that of) one woman who lost her life. She lived alone.
Her neighbor stopped and told her she needed to get out as the fire was close, but undoubtedly she didn’t get out fast enough.
We see evidence that God had protected some of the houses. Rex told about the Chinook helicopter dropping water on this neighbor’s house south of him that saved their house.