Fire damage, two deaths following Pawnee Co. wildfires

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Updated: 8/14/2011 8:55 pm Published: 8/12/2011 2:38 pm

UPDATE: On Sunday, Pawnee Co. area firefighters say a second man died of injuries he sustained as he tried to leave his home during the wildfire last week.  The man in his 60s tripped on a rock and hit his head, and died over the weekend in a Tulsa hospital. 

Also Sunday, firefighters responded to an arson about a half mile from where the original fire broke out.  They have made an arrest.

Firefighters have also released a detailed report on structures destroyed in last Monday's blaze: Houses - 16, trailer homes - 29, garages - 9, motor homes - 2, travel trailers -7, shops - 26, sheds - 24, barns - 10, livestock trailer - 1, utility trailers - 4, more than 100 cars/trucks, boats - 10, tractors - 5.  

County damage assessments are adding up, close to $15M from the wildfires last week Emergency Management officials said Friday.
Local and state officials got a closer look in Terlton, touring just days after hundreds of firefighters and volunteer departments battled wildfires with limited resources.

Only one helicopter was available to help douse the flames last week in Pawnee
EMA said.
Emergency manager Mark Randell called for any and all assistance from the air he could get, but says fires all across the state had helicopters helping elsewhere.

Randell says the wildfires burned through eight to ten thousand acres in Pawnee County -- taking homes, cars, farmland and equipment with it.

Thirty-five homes were destroyed and one man didn't make it out. The fire marshal is investigating that fire death and all major fires in Pawnee, Randell said.

Local firefighter morale took a major hit too. Randell says some volunteers worked 16 to 17 hours straight, but couldn’t get the fire out as fast as they wanted with such dry conditions and hot weather.

FOX23 talked to a man who says his brother died as a result of the fire. Fire officials say everyone was told to evacuate well before the fire threatened their homes. Frank Edgar admits he and his brother thought they would be safe from the fire.

Frank Edgar, with the help of the local sheriff located his brother’s body behind the home where they were both born and raised. He says 81-year-old, Hollis Edgar was a brave veteran who served in the Air Force in the Korean War. The sheriff came by twice before the fire to tell Hollis to evacuate.
"It felt like a storm from hell or something,” Frank said. “Embers flying in the air and touching the ground and everywhere they touched, fire flames would follow them."
After the flames died down, the home where he and his seven brothers and sisters were born, were gone.
Frank couldn’t find Hollis and family filed a missing persons report Monday.

"I was looking for him, he was missing and I helped look,” he said.

Frank Edgar walked through what's left of his family home in Terlton Friday evening.
He said it was the home where he and seven brothers and sisters were born and raised.
“He's a good ole boy; he liked helping people and being friendly."
Fire spread to the home where his big brother Hollis had lived out the rest of his life.

"He left a message on my record phone about 4 o'clock, the wind was hot,” Frank thought his brother got out of the home in time. “He said I better watch the fire it was coming our way."

The last thing his brother did was leave a message to little brother frank, making sure he was out of harms way.
“That's the last time I ever heard from him."

Frank's home next door was spared.  Now he and the family say they will try and pick up the pieces and move on like Hollis would want them to, "I’m just going to do without him, I live here, where I stay. I've been here since I was born."

Frank says funeral arrangements have been put on hold until the medical examiner determines an exact cause of death. The fire marshal is investigating this fire and all major fires in the area.

Firefighters and volunteer departments hope by showing state leaders the extent of the damage, more resources and equipment needs will be available so disasters like this can be better avoided.

As Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak has been touring the damage left behind by wildfires across the state. He said all too often he’s running into fire victims who have no home owner’s insurance. To find out how you can protect your home call the Oklahoma Insurance Department, at 1-800-522-0071.

Commissioner Doak says this summer’s wildfires may cause ISO ratings to go up in rural areas like Pawnee but it’s too soon to know. That would mean people’s insurance premiums would go up.

District 35 Representative Dennis Casey also toured the damaged areas near his hometown and says he will work with state leaders to see about getting more resources, money and equipment for fire departments in rural counties.
He added, state leaders are already looking at an interim study to see about if and how the state can help these departments who are barely getting by now.

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