Firefighters’ efforts require more than a thank-you card, organizer says
By RACHEL coleman
• Leader & Times
In situations like this, a thank-you card just isn’t enough.
That’s what Macario and Minerva Garza of rural Satanta concluded as they surveyed their home and church property the morning after a grassfire swept across the Haskell and Stevens counties.
“It could have been a lot worse,” Garza said. “Everything around is black, the grass is gone, and when the wind blows, there’s just dirt blowing everywhere. But our little bit of pasture and house are saved. The farmers came down the road and plowed and disked and that pretty much saved us. To me, it felt like the farmer must have been an angel.”
Garza told her husband, “We need to have an appreciation meal to thank our local heroes. It wasn’t just our place they saved. They saved the town. We want to honor them.”
Accordingly, a dinner to honor local heroes is set for 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the Satanta community building. The event, featuring home-cooked Mexican food prepared by the members of Jesus Christ One Way church pastored by Macario Garza, is open to “anybody who had anything to do with the firefighting,” Minerva Garza said, “firefighters, farmers, people who took water out to them. If my husband and son had been out there, we’d have been really worried, so this is for the families of the heroes, too.”
The April 3 fire added considerably to the list of local heroes. No one is sure what started the grassfire, but once the flames caught, they raced across open prairie, switching direction as the wind changed its mind. The fire blackened acres, destroyed two houses and forced the evacuation of the entire town of Satanta. As night fell, displaced residents wondered what they’d find when they returned home the next morning.
“It’s really a miracle the whole town didn’t go up,” said Lisa Kennedy, whose husband farms outside Satanta, said. While she looked after the couple’s children and helped friends contend with the emergency, her husband, Tim, joined the fire-fighting effort.
“It was pretty crazy out there, with everyone trying to work where they saw a need,” she said. “We were actually in Liberal when it started, and farmers started calling each other on cell phones saying, ‘Get those tractors out there.’” The Kennedys broke the speed limit to get back to Satanta, and by that time, Lisa recalled, the fire was in full force.
“It was fast. It was so fast,” she said. “And the wind kept switching. There were so many trucks and firefighters working the front side of the fire, and these little back fires kept starting. The firefighters and farmers saved the town.”
They had to work fast and they had to work smart. The all-volunteer Satanta Fire Department was joined by firefighters from 10 surrounding communities, including Liberal and Guymon, and a fleet of farmers working frantically to plow firebreaks with tractors and disks.
Despite their efforts, the Red and Kim Miller home burned in less than an hour after the wind switched directions. Later in the day, the Jerry Stuckey home in rural Moscow was also destroyed. Stuckey, a volunteer firefighter himself, sustained burns in the effort to save the Miller home.
Kim Miller doesn’t try to sugar-coat the ramifications of the fire. It was devastating, she admits, but even so, she says her family is blessed: the Millers’ children Annalisa, 10, J.C., 9, and Hadley, 6, were unhurt. The horses ran free. The dogs and goats were gathered up and transported from the danger zone. Even the pet rabbit was rescued.
“Timing was critical. We never had a choice about what to try to save,” she said. “We had been at church in Ulysses when we got the call, and when I arrived, there was just the right amount of time, and just the right amount of neighbors to help. We truly saved everything that was important.”
In the aftermath of the fire, she said, “the children are doing wonderfully, and we are too, and that is, in part, by being carried by the community. People say that after a fire, you don’t even have a toothbrush, but the truth is, we did.”
The Millers were able to stay in an unoccupied rental house at Red’s parents’ feedlot. While Kim and the children were away for the afternoon, friends organized a donation drive and when the family returned, “the house was furnished, down to the sheets on the beds,” Kim said. “They even scrubbed out the refrigerator.”
In the larger picture, the firefighters’ efforts were successful: they stopped the flames at the Satanta city limits.
“The fire was right there at the very edge of town,” said Minerva Garza.
Having fled the fire early in the day, the Garzas “didn’t really know what was happening, except for people calling to tell us, at first, that the church property was gone, and my daughter’s house was gone,” she recalled. “We drove back from Liberal, but the law enforcement people wouldn’t let us go past Satanta because the fire was still burning. When we finally got home, we were out there thanking the Lord.”
However, she added, there’s a lot more thanking to be done.
“It’s a good feeling that we’re in the kind of community where everybody comes together at a time like this,” she said. “Farmers, people who live in town, law enforcement, fire fighters. A card just wouldn’t be enough.”
For more information or to make a donation for this event, contact Minerva at 620-649-2392 or Esther at 620-649-2467.