Some of you may not know that my neighborhood, home, and garden were part of the Simpson wildfire in Logan County, Oklahoma, a little over a week ago.
I’ve hesitated writing about it because, honestly, it’s still so fresh, but I want a record of what happened. My home was spared.
In less than 20 minutes, the wildfire blew into our upper pasture down the hill, engulfed our horse barn and the trees surrounding it, and then split around our home.
From the front yard, everything looks just fine. Appears to be a perfect spring, doesn’t it?
Before I tell you about the damage, I need to share about that day.
Buckle your seatbelts. It’s about to get stressful.
I was up early, and it was so unbelievably windy; I told the two women who occasionally help with my garden not to come. Thanks be to God.
Instead, I worked outside by myself, and I posted a video on Instagram about my tulips and cautioned people to be extra careful. I even joked, apologizing for being everyone’s mom.
Winds on the day of the wildfire were blowing 65-70 miles per hour.
Yes, it’s windy in Oklahoma, especially in spring, but we were on the back side of that front, causing snowstorms in the northern plains. At around 1:00 p.m., I ran to town to buy some of my favorite mulch at Lowe’s. I’d met with a garden-coaching client the day before, so I stopped at Davison’s Nursery on 2nd Street on my way home to see what plants were available.
Mr. Davison and his daughter were staring at their phones. I asked them what was up. They said. “There’s a wildfire out by our property.”
I asked, “Where’s that?”
They said, “It started on Simpson, and they think it’s going to cross the highway.”
That’s when I ran to my car.
All I could think about was my Russian Blue kitten, Masha, Francis, our dog, and our home, in that order. As I drove north on I-35, I saw the fire in the distance. I watched as it moved fast, eating up ground with billowing clouds of acrid smoke. There were also fires on the east side of the highway, but they were further south. I called Bill, my daughter Megan, and my son Brennan. They both live out this way too, and Megan works from home.
Suddenly, the traffic stopped, and two semi-trailers blocked my view. Cars and trucks were racing down the shoulder of the highway. I was almost at Waterloo Road, so I joined them. My hope was to get to my house before the fire came into our neighborhood, and I knew there was no time to waste. As I exited the highway, I noticed the highway patrol had closed the highway north of Waterloo and was directing traffic down the on-ramp. I raced to Pine, but it was closed at Charter Oak Road. We have a back entrance to our neighborhood, so I drove toward it. It wasn’t blocked, so I raced through the adjoining neighborhood, which looked fine.
After turning the corner, a huge wall of smoke blew across the road, and ash fell on my car. Then, I saw the flames. On either side of the roadway, everything was on fire in front of me. Flames licked trees forty feet high.
I threw my car into reverse as my phone rang.
It was Brennan. I didn’t call him back until I drove several miles to safety and waited for Bill. “The barn is on fire,” he said, “I’m watching it live on TV.” He recognized our metal barn next to it.
“Well, then, everything is lost,” I said, and I began to cry.
I’ll admit I was pretty hysterical, so I stopped a few miles south to buy gas, go to the bathroom, grab a bottle of water, and gather myself. I called my best friend, Aimee, and Carol Michel, my co-host of the Gardenangelists podcast, and I think I may have talked to Jennie, my dear gardening friend, who I’ve known since high school, on the phone too. I have very little memory of any of these conversations.
My phone was blowing up with texts because so many people know where we live. Friends from church, garden friends, and my garden-coaching clients. Everyone was praying.
And, honestly, it’s a miracle. All of it. Today, I still well up with tears as I write. My neighborhood lost so many homes.
Logan County lost over 90 homes and many more structures in the wildfire, but no one died.
Megan and our granddaughter evacuated, and Bill and I staged ourselves across from the fire station 1/2 mile down the road from our neighborhood. The fire blew through so fast–within 20 minutes–that the firefighters couldn’t get into my neighborhood before almost everything was over.
It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen, and we’ve had fires nearby before.
Later that evening, our neighbor called. He said our home was still standing, but we had hot spots. We basically begged the sheriff guarding our neighborhood to let us back in, and we found our home and car barn intact.
At first, we had electricity, but soon it went out. The next several days, OG&E replaced many poles in the area. Bill fired up the generator we bought after the ice storm in 2020, and I continued to water down hot spots all around the property. Then, my mulch pile and burn pile in the lower pasture started burning. It looked frightening, but everything around it was burned, so the house was still okay. Firefighters came six or seven times to put it out over the coming days.
The air was unbelievably smoky, but we were able to run the air conditioning in part of the house, which helped. For the next two days, Bill and I basically walked around in circles in shock and picked up what we could. I worked on what I could in my garden, disposing of burned-up things and making room for new ones.
We also called our insurance agent and met with the adjuster this past week. I think things are going to be okay, but those first few days were tough.
As I would come and go picking up food and supplies, I talked to so many of my neighbors who lost everything. So far, none of them are selling up and moving. I’m really glad. I love my neighbors, and I would miss them.
Several have stopped by when they see me outside. They said they were grateful our home and garden didn’t burn up, that they enjoy it so much, and that they would have been sadder without it. Their words humble me.
Simpson wildfire damage in my landscape
The Simpson wildfire burned up most of my Smart Pots along the old driveway and killed some of my lavender. Carol emailed Smart Pots, and bless their hearts; they sent over a bunch of replacement pots. Heather actually hand-delivered them on Saturday. So kind.
Embers landed in the lower garden and burned up my Netafim drip hoses. The wildfire also destroyed the hoses in the garden bed that faces the street. It burned up a lot of the pink muhly grass, and it completely burned our 2.5 acres across the street.
But we were fortunate. Many homes burned completely to the ground. It took me several days to wrap my mind around the devastation. I posted a few videos to Instagram and realized they were making me sadder, so I stopped. A couple of the videos went viral. Here’s the one about the meadow. Instagram congratulated me. That wasn’t really my intent, but there you go.
Since the fire, two of my sweet neighbors had a get-together, and many came. Bill and I were sick with a stomach virus, so we were unable to attend. My neighbor, Anita, sent me photos, and everyone was comforting each other.
Most of my neighbors are already hauling away debris, drilling new wells, and getting their electricity fixed. People in the countryside are very resilient.
As for my garden, a week after the Simpson wildfire, I see more damage. I lost the cool Macedonian Pine tree I planted last fall to view outside my bedroom window. Several boxwoods burned up. I’ll be digging them all out next week, I hope.
I probably lost my ‘Orangeola’ Japanese maple and another fancy Japanese maple, but I didn’t lose my native spicebush. Something to think about there since they were all planted next to each other. Native plants are tough.
I lost three beautiful oakleaf hydrangeas that were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
My drip irrigation in the back garden is destroyed in several beds. Grooms Irrigation is coming out to replace the Netafim tubing today, I hope. Bill, Brennan, and I repaired the drip irrigation in the bed facing the street where the pink muhly grass grows. The grass is resilient. It is growing back.
The lavender is also burned. I lost a whole row of it. I may not replant it to save myself more work.
Friends in need are friends indeed.
OG Oklahoma blogger friends Katie Johnstonbaugh, Kelly Roberts, Marie Wreath, and Rose Marie B. brought me seeds in a bluebird planter–I’ve planted them in the upper pasture already–and a gift certificate for TLC Nursery. I’ll put it to good use. Thank you. Also, I got the bluebird reference, and yes, they’re still landing in front of me every time I’m out in the garden.
Jennie sent me lanolin because my lips were so chapped from the dry air. I didn’t know a wildfire will suck all the moisture out of the air for weeks or that it will fill your home with smoke, soot, and ash. It’s all new to me, and my new knowledge has given me even more empathy for those who lost everything.
Carol did all the work for the podcast for two weeks in a row. I just showed up and talked.
Little by little, bird by bird
So, where do we go from here? Well, we’ve hired Midwest Wrecking Co. to haul away the horse barn debris and cut down the dead trees surrounding it. As I wrote above, we’re getting the irrigation fixed, and an electrician friend is repairing the electricity to the car barn.
I’m sad, but here’s to new beginnings and an even closer neighborhood. Most of my friends are rebuilding, and I’m so glad. I would miss all of them if they weren’t.