Rachael Van Horn
Woodward, Okla. —
As of early Monday afternoon, local authorities still could not say for sure what caused a morning fire at Briarwood Apartments on 22nd Street.
The morning blaze completely destroyed two apartments and left more than 20 families temporarily displaced, according to the Briarwood Regional Property manager Sherry Kraus.
"The good news was no one was injured and everyone got out," Kraus said.
While the specific cause of the blaze is still a matter under investigation, immediate evidence points to the ceiling mounted heater in one apartment on the far western portion of the building affected as the apparent origin of the fire, said Woodward Fire Department Capt. Kevin Dixon.
"We can't determine yet if the heater caused it, but the area most burned was around that heater," Dixon said.
Work to extinguish the blaze was also hampered by extreme cold and ice.
"I'm sure we were a little slow to get there because this morning, it was just a sheet of ice," he said. "So when you are working with water in 15 degrees it wasn't but a few seconds before it turned to ice."
Nevertheless, Dixon said Woodward firefighters, who were also assisted by Mooreland and Mutual firefighters, were able to get the flames knocked down quickly and evacuate residents from the rest of the units in the building.
At present, the entire block of apartments is uninhabitable, Dixon said.
"There are 24 apartments in that building and since there is no power or water in that building, the Red Cross is working with us to put everyone up," Kraus said.
Like a lot of people, Briarwood tenant Brittany Morris has been down with a cold for the last several days.
So it took the 22-year-old a few seconds to wake up and realize the burning in her throat and bad taste in her mouth was the result of billowing smoke pouring into her apartment from a fire that had broken out a few doors down.
"I got up an brushed my teeth and then, like I looked around and realized that there was all this smoke and I got out of there and found these guys helping other people get out,"she said. "I don't know why, but my smoke detector didn't go off."
Smoke damage and electrical system damage in the rest of the building has made the rest of the 24 units in the building complex temporarily uninhabitable, Krause said.
But already on Monday there was a restoration team headed to the multifamily dwelling to begin the cleanup process and Briarwood maintenance workers had windows on all the units open and airing them out, Kraus said.
She hopes to be able to let most of the inhabitants of the 22 other units back into their apartments within the next couple of days.
Monday afternoon, the American Red Cross established a temporary shelter at Living Word Fellowship Church of Woodward for as long as the shelter is needed, said Red Cross Disaster Services Coordinator, Gordon Burgess.
"Right now, there is no population at the shelter," he said, early Monday afternoon. "But that's because they aren't there yet. We expect to keep the shelter open as long as they have the need."
Burgess said it would be late afternoon, when people began to come home from work when he expected to begin to see some arriving at the shelter.