CACHE — A red flag fire danger alert offered only a warning for a wildfire outside of Cache that ended up taking two homes, several outbuildings and over 120 acres of charred land.
Approaching the small Western Comanche County community Wednesday afternoon, smoke pouring from the golden grassland and barren tree branches appeared apocalyptic. For those in the danger zone, appearances rang true. The smell of burning brush, grass and structures struck the senses before smoke shrouded the evening sunset.
Cache firefighters called for mutual aid assistance from nearby departments around 3 p.m. after the blaze, which began earlier around West Gore Boulevard and Quanah Road, gathered momentum toward homes. With winds coming from the south/southeast at nearly 20 mph, it made for a perfect storm of conditions ripe for a big blaze.
As the fire moved to the north/northwest, the Cahoma Building was threatened as were homes in the path. Reinforcement firefighters arrived and, at the end of it all, every Comanche County fire department plus the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs and Fort Sill, made a 17-department push to quash the developing inferno.
It would be a fight for lives and property.
Gathered with family and friends at the Dollar General Store just west of Oklahoma 115 where a roadblock closed traffic westbound on Old Cache Road shortly after 5 p.m., Carla Autavich said her father Carl remained at the family home on Quanah Road where he was hosing the house and grass to keep it wet.
“We’re worried about it,” she said. “It’s mostly Comanche territory, Comanche homes over there. It’s the Camp 7 area.”
Two of the Autavich family’s neighbors, the Pohawpatchoko and Daugherty families, lost their homes to the fire, she said.
The Constitution’s photographer was caught in the crossfire as the fire jumped the south side of Old Cache Road and burned a house on the northern corner. He was able to make escape before becoming another casualty to the inferno. Although the fire crossed the roadway, firefighters were able to keep it from trekking farther north.
“I was very close to it,” said Stephanie Sullivan. “It was very scary.”
Sullivan said her husband, Phillip, had stayed behind along with some neighbors to keep the home and surrounding grass wet in hopes of licking the fire before its flames licked structures. Her father, Doug Glenn, called it a very hairy situation to be caught in. But there was work to be done before evacuating.
“We were right in the middle of it trying to get the horses out,” he said.
According to Ashleigh Hensch, Comanche County Emergency Management information officer, residents on either side of Quanah Road, from Gore Boulevard to Cache Road, were requested to evacuate the area by 4:15 p.m. An emergency alert sent shortly before 4:40 p.m. moved the evacuation zone farther north to U.S. 62.
Shortly before 5:30 p.m., emergency radio reports included the words that, although the fire wasn’t out, it was contained. By 6:30 p.m., the fight’s effort was moved to more of a mop up situation and by 7 p.m. several of the assisting fire departments would begin being cleared from the scene.
In all, two homes were lost, multiple sheds and barns caught fire and more than 120 acres were burned but no injuries or deaths had been reported, Hensch said. The fire’s cause remains under investigation.
Fire crews were slated to patrol through the night and power lines were shut down to avoid sparking and re-ignition. A shelter for displaced citizens was set up at New Life Assembly of God at the corner of 5th Street and B Avenue.
According to the Oklahoma Forestry Service, winds would somewhat decrease overnight Wednesday, although consistent south winds 8-20 mph with some higher gusts would persist. Building atmospheric moisture would provide a good opportunity to contain wildfires in the nighttime hours. It was projected that improved humidity and diminished wind speeds would provide good opportunity for firefighters to have an opportunity to knock down any fires, should they ignite today.
Written by Scott Rains: firstname.lastname@example.org.