You can't fully appreciate how Oklahoma emergency personnel and residents respond to disaster until you face one. We want to thank all those who helped us survive the Wed., May 20 lightning strike and inferno that leveled our home and left us homeless with nothing but the clothes on our back. But we're insured, we're safe; life goes on but only because others offered boundless help.

When the explosion shook the house from end to end and some power flickered off, we hated to bother 911 and Northwest Fire in case it was nothing. But the dispatcher reassured us and asked crucial questions while dispatch units to investigate.

Within moments sparks and small flames spurted from the north end of the house. She immediately upgraded the call to a structure fire and told us to get out, even though there was no smoke inside. Faith said she was going to...but I couldn't hear the rest and thought she was looking for our beloved cat when she was outside in the 60 mph wind and downpour with a flashlight to guide the fire trucks in.

Smoke filled the house in 30 seconds, burning my eyes and making it hard to breathe or think. I'd grabbed a few ID cards and headed out, but was near collapse at the front door when a Rogers County deputy waded in, carefully supported me, and guided me out (I'm handicapped). I hope someone knows his name and he gets a commendation--without his calm action and excellent training, you'd be reading an obituary, not an eyewitness account.

Despite axle-deep mud and water-covered roads NW units arrived a minute or two later. But flames already had raced across the entire width of the house (3,000 sq ft) spurred by howling winds, which the house a blast furnace. They did everything possible, and helped salvage some priceless memories. Continued wind, lightning and huge piles of debris rekindled four times. Each time NW eliminated all signs of smoke and embers. They also escorted us safely to salvage mostly pictures and documents priceless to our extended family.

Calls from friends, neighbors and even strangers poured in not with vague offers but asking whether we needed clothes, help salvaging, items, transportation, a place to stay, food..all those things you take for granted. Without them, we'd never have made it.

Sincere hugs, handshakes or pats on the back help heal as do brief prayers of any faith. Officially there were no injuries; in fact other than a little smoke and heat that's true. But the emotional damage is huge. Our community and church family healed that. We can't thank everyone enough but we sure will carry it forward. And we're so glad we call Oologah home. See you downtown, where we hope to have an apartment within the week. The community has adopted Will Rogers motto: It never met a resident it would not help.

—John and Faith Wylie


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