Windswept flames damages OK town

High winds, severe weather, responsible for pockets of damage across state

BY BOYCE BOWDON | OKLAHOMA CITY | June 8, 2008



"Half of our town could have gone up in flames if it had not been brought under control. It was plenty bad, but it could have been much worse."

—Rev. Mark Marine, First Baptist Church, Gotebo.


Winds up gusting up to 75 or 80 mph pounded Oklahoma Thursday evening, causing fires, power outages, and considerable property damage across the state.

Windy conditions and lapping waves also contributed to the death of one man and critically injured another in an accident on Lake Hefner in Oklahoma City.

In violation of city ordinances, three men were wakeboarding near the Lake Hefner dam. As one man was being towed, high winds pushed a wave up and over the boat, sending the two in the boat overboard. The wakeboarder was not injured.

Gusting winds contributed to fires across Oklahoma. One of the hardest hit was Gotebo, a town with 250 residents in southwest Oklahoma near the Texas border.

“There was a whole of praying and the Lord was merciful and the firefighters were outstanding, that’s what kept things from getting a lot worse,” says the Rev. Mark Marine, pastor of First Baptist Church in Gotebo.

Witnesses say the wildfire began in a pasture less than a mile south of town about 2 p.m. Thursday. Authorities ran from house to house, alerting people of the approaching blaze. The fire destroyed two houses and a barn. No one was seriously hurt.

“Half of our town could have gone up in flames if it had not been brought under control. It was plenty bad, but it could have been much worse.”

“The wind was so strong, there was nothing we could do,” says Nick Wooten, owner of one of the houses that burned, a recently renovated 100-year-old structure. The Newtons had planned to move into house in two weeks. It was not insured.

Realizing the fire would spread rapidly if not controlled, the former fire chief of Gotebo’s volunteer fire department, Steven Arganbright, immediately called the fire department at Mountain View, seven miles away, for help. At least four other fire departments from neighboring towns helped control the fire.

Marine says First Baptist Church provided water for firefighters and others during the fire.

In western Comanche County, a downed power line caused a blaze that burned about 25 acres, says Chris Killmer, the county’s public information officer. He says nine fire departments helped control the fire. No one was injured and no homes were destroyed.

Power poles and trees were snapped or bent by high winds in several locations, causing considerable property damage.

In Oklahoma City, nearly 15,000 customers of Oklahoma Gas & Electric were without power after winds blew down power lines.

Oklahoma City was not only battered by heavy winds Thursday. The Oklahoma Geological Survey confirmed that at least four small earthquakes were recorded shortly before 1:15 a.m. The largest quake measured 2.5 on the Richter scale. No injuries or damages were reported.


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