The Woodward News

Local News

March 4, 2014

Investigation into fire continuing

‘Miracle Cat’ survives fire

Woodward, Okla. — Monday there was little more than a wet, charred and frozen mass of rubble to mark the homes of 12 displaced families after a Saturday night blaze claimed an entire building unit at Briarwood Apartments.

On Sunday, however, firefighters discovered a miracle in the destruction. While preparing the building for demolition they heard a noise under some rubble and began digging. Wet, a little singed and almost frozen they found Bean the cat.

Bean's family, the Garris' in Apartment No. 227, thought they had lost little Bean in the blaze.

"She was my daughter, Lydia's cat and my husband went back in several times to try and find her and get her out," said Kayla Garris. "When we saw her, oh my God, we were so happy."

The cause of the fire, the second in that unit in less than 8 weeks, is still under investigation, according to Woodward Fire Chief Steve Day.

The first fire, January 6 - also a bitterly cold night - was thought to be caused by an electrical malfunction related either to a heating unit there for a bathroom fan, according to an initial report from that fire.

This time, the Woodward Fire Department received the alarm Saturday at about 7:30 p.m.

According to Day, when he and his firefighters arrived, there was a moderate amount of smoke coming from the west eave of the building and light smoke coming from the entire eave of the building.

"What this told us was that the fire had moved quickly through the attic," Day said.  "We think it did this because the first fire, back a few weeks ago, had broken through the first ceiling level from the ceiling of the apartment into the entire attic of the building."

Day said it was for this reason the fire, even though they were fighting in from many different directions, moved so quickly. Hampered by plummeting temperatures and despite several attempts to get at the fire from multiple locations in the attic and knock it down, the entire attic was soon engulfed.

According to the report, when the fire had engulfed three apartments and the entire attic was involved, Day called for firefighters to switch tactics and "go defensive", meaning to evacuate the apartment buildings to the direct west and south of the building and work to contain the blaze to that building alone.

"Then we pulled our trucks back and basically worked at exposure control (protecting the other structures)," he said.

Day said it was the largest building fire he had ever had personal experience with.

"The largest I have ever been a part of fighting and ever and hopefully the last one that big that I will ever see," he said.

In all six other area fire departments assisted in the fight, including Gage, Laverne, Shattuck, Fargo, Alva and Buffalo fire departments, Day said. Several firefighters were treated for exhaustion after fighting the fire all night and still all day Sunday as well.

Day said the investigation into the fire will be ongoing but could take a very long time.

"Since we had to push it in, it is going to be very difficult to find the source," Day said. "We are interviewing witnesses to just learn what they saw and experienced and hopefully that will give us something."

In all the blaze displaced 12 families, according to Wendy J. Cooper, Briarwood property manager.

At present, some of those are being housed at local motels while others have already been rehoused by Cooper in other units within the Briarwood complex.

"You know, it's really amazing because I have not really had empty apartments to rent and yet I have just enough apartments and I am going to be able to rehouse all of these people," she said.

But Cooper is heartbroken for her residents, whose items, one-by-one are showing up in her office, sooty and smelling of charcoal. There in the corner is a rag-tag pile of tool kits, paperwork files, toys and other items that represents all that is left from the disaster.

Monday afternoon, ice still hung from two Dish Network satellites at the site. They seemed to stand sentry over the mess that used to be the homes of several young, growing Woodward families.

For some, like Victoria Barron and her family who had no renter's insurance, the disaster has left them with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

While Cooper has been able to place the family in an apartment there on the property, the family has no furniture and is laying the children on the floors with no beds and the apartment has no chairs or furniture at all, Barron said.

Still, Barron was reluctant to ask for help with more than one bed for her family, knowing there are so many others who have the same situation.

"It just happened so fast," she said.

Saturday evening was like any other, Barron said.

"I was making Koolaid for the girls," she said. "The neighbor guy cam banging on the door and said there was a fire and we had to get out."

Barron said she and her husband, Alfredo gathered their daughters and left with what they had on.

That was how the evening also went for the Garris family.

"My husband was off work and he and my daughter were at home playing and watching movies," Kayla Garris said. "This is the second time this has happened in three months and this time we lost everything. Today, I went to see if we could at least find some things and they had just bulldozed it all down."

While Garris and her family did have renter's insurance, they will have to purchase what they can out of pocket until their insurance claims go through, she said.

Still, for some reason, Garris says she can't stop crying happy tears.

"I am devastated and I haven't stopped crying, but they are happy tears," Garris said. "Because of all the generosity. Woodward has got some really great people here...so many kind hearted people. It really warms my heart to know that there are people out there who want to help us to build a new foundation."

For information on how to contact the families affected by the fire contact your local Red Cross office.

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