Sometimes our stories come to us in the most unexpected ways.
And occasionally, we have no other choice but to become part of the story, which was the case Wednesday afternoon. That’s when photojournalist Michael Blair and News On Six reporter Tess Maune drove to Pawnee County to put together a back-to-school piece, but a black plume of smoke drew them away from that story and led them to a scene where they were able to help one of Oklahoma's own.
It was a fire that pushed a plume of black smoke so high in the air, it could been seen for miles, which is how Blair and Maune happened upon a burning truck.
The team was first on scene, so Blair got a few quick shots of the flames while Maune called 911.
But because no one was around, Blair decided to grab water hose and start spraying. He handed the camera off to Maune temporarily.
Only a few minutes had gone by when neighbor Michele Horinek showed up with her friend Lyle Mitchell.
“She said, 'I just heard an explosion,' and I see black smoke...we need to go, so we went,” Mitchell said.
“It was a pretty good explosion, so I was just worried about my neighbor, making sure it wasn't his house and he wasn't in it,” Horinek said.
With flames shooting from the pickup and parts still exploding... Mitchell and Horinek jumped right in and grabbed water hoses.
They were working to put the fire out when the owner, Jim Green pulled up.
“I thought, 'Oh no,'” Green said. “I can’t even go grab a sandwich without something happening.”
Green says he'd only been away from home for about half an hour, he'd driven his car to town to eat a late lunch.
Normally, he would have been driving the pickup, but he says it has been acting up lately.
“I'd been having some trouble with the transmission,” Green said.
Green says the truck was actually in the shop Wednesday morning, where the mechanic told him it had some electrical issues.
He says he was going to take it to another shop for a tune-up next week.
“I don’t think that’s gonna happen now,” he said laughing.
Green is a rancher in the Hallett/Jennings area, and it wasn’t easy to watch his work truck burn, but it was better that than his house or barn full of equipment.
Without his neighbors and Blair’s quick thinking, Green says the outcome might have been much more devastating.
“We'd had a grass fire, might have went that way,” Green said pointing to his home. “So they did good... definitely have good neighbors.”
Green’s lucky, he says, to have neighbors who are friends, willing to do whatever it takes to lend a hand.
“I think it's great. It's kind life in the country, help each other,” the rancher said. “I sure appreciate it…definitely have good neighbors.”
Together, Blair, Mitchell and Horinek were able to put the fire, a natural instinct for the trio of Oklahomans. Add to that, Blair was raised in Pawnee County, and on that day, he was just a Cleveland kid among neighbors again.
“Doesn't matter, somebody needs help, we'll help. It's what we're about; we're Oklahoma, so that's all it's about,” Mitchell said.
Green does have insurance.
While Green says the mechanic reported electrical problems, it's not certain if that's what caused the truck to catch fire.
Volunteer firefighters did respond to the rural property and helped put out some hot spots.