Heat causes family to leave home before it burns down

Tuesday, September 5th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BIXBY, Okla. (AP) -- The triple-digit heat has been blamed for five deaths in Oklahoma in the past several weeks.

Now it is being credited with saving the lives of a Bixby family whose home burned down early Monday.

When a power outage in Bixby knocked out the air conditioning in the home of John and Gay Churchwell Sunday, the couple made do in 106-degree heat by staying at a relative's house in Broken Arrow that night.

The couple said that is why they and their elementary school-age daughter weren't in their house when it burned down around 2 a.m.


The Churchwells' neighbor, Gena Pederson, said that after the shock of losing their house wore off, the family was thankful that no one had been hurt.

"She dried her tears and said, 'We're thankful and thank God that no one was hurt,"' Pederson said of Gay Churchwell.

A Bixby Fire Department official said investigators think the fire was caused by lightning, which also sparked grass fires in the area.

Bixby firefighters were fighting those fires before they arrived at the Churchwell house.

The power outage that led the Churchwells to leave home also meant lower water pressure at the hydrant in front of the family's house. Knowing the water pressure would be low, firefighters used water trucks from both Bixby and Liberty to help battle the blaze.

Brian Alford, a spokesman for Oklahoma Gas & Electric, said the power outage was caused by a faulty underground power line and affected about 1,000 customers in the Bixby area Sunday.

Another 25 grass fires were reported in northwestern Oklahoma Sunday night. Crews from Woodward and a dozen other fire departments from Elmwood to Beaver in the Oklahoma Panhandle battled the fires.

"Everything up here was getting struck by lightning, and with the wind picking up and it getting hot, they (forecasters) think it may happen again," said Lt. Marty Logan, who spent Monday afternoon servicing vehicles in case they were needed in the future.

Meanwhile, oppressive heat continued to hang over Oklahoma.

Hobart and Lawton registered state-high temperatures of 110 degrees Monday, followed by Frederick at 109 and Clinton and Gage at 108, the National Weather Service reported. Oklahoma City reported a Monday high of 106 degrees, while Tulsa was at 101.