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Wildfire moves to within 2 miles of Falls Creek before wind shifts

DAVIS, Okla. (BP)–Gary Fielding doesn’t want to be pictured as a modern-day Moses, but he wants Oklahoma Southern Baptists to know the power of prayer is real. Standing on the observation deck in the prayer garden at Falls Creek Baptist Assembly at 4:15 p.m., Sept. 19, Fielding watched flames and smoke of wildfires rapidly approach the 360-acre encampment situated in the Arbuckle Mountains.

“I was in the prayer garden watching the columns of smoke approach and had my arms extended in the direction the fires needed to move to save us,” he recounted. “I was just pointing, you know, with both arms, and I prayed, ‘Lord, let the wind go that way, and it did.'”

At that moment Fielding experienced a wave of exhilaration. “I felt like it was a movement of God. I felt he was wonderful and blessed. It was glorious.”

The camp director also knows he wasn’t alone on that mountain. Hundreds of Oklahoma Baptists who had been informed late that afternoon that the camp was being evacuated were praying for Falls Creek as well. Included was the staff at the headquarters of the Baptist General Convention in Oklahoma City, who had been called to the chapel by Executive Director-Treasurer Anthony Jordan to petition God for protection of the camp.

“I called Dr. Jordan and he acted immediately, I understand,” Fielding said. “It was no coincidence that as I prayed in our garden and the staff prayed together in Oklahoma City that God answered our petition.”

The fires, which burned more than 40,000 acres of trees and grassland in the Arbuckles, actually only got to within two miles of Falls Creek, Fielding estimated. “The way the wind was blowing, if it jumps the interstate, it comes right at us,” he said.

As a precaution, state emergency operations officials ordered the camp to be evacuated as the fire approached. Approximately 20 people, including Falls Creek staff and some workers who were clearing land where new cabins are to be built, had to leave. Before doing so, Fielding and his staff moved all of the camp’s vehicles and rolling equipment down to the ball field alongside the nearby Washita River just in case the flames got into the camp. “That included all of our pickups, trucks, tractors and trailers,” Fielding said.

The staff also sprayed the roofs of buildings to wet them down and hooked up hoses to the camp’s nine fire hydrants in the event fire trucks had to be brought in to battle the blaze. “We have a 250,000-gallon water supply, so we would have had a good start at extinguishing any fires that we had,” he said.

“Also, the trucks can drop their hoses directly into the creek and fill their pumpers from there, so we have a good supply of water on hand.”

Fielding added that the town of Davis — which is located approximately five miles away — has a “well-scheduled plan of what departments they will pull from in an emergency like that; they have done some pretty extensive planning in that area.”

We probably would have lost some structures on the perimeter of the grounds, but I don’t think it would have swept throughout the camp,” he added.

The threat posed by the wildfires did bring to the forefront one concern Fielding has for the 83-year-old encampment. Its sole fire truck would have been useless if the flames had reached the property because its pump is not working.

Asked what it would take to get the truck back into working condition, Fielding said, “Unfortunately, the truck is really not worth fixing. That’s an issue that needs to be addressed; we really need a working fire truck here.”

Although Falls Creek itself was not damaged by the rash of wildfires, other sites in the Arbuckles weren’t as fortunate. Despite the vigilant efforts of personnel flying military helicopters which dumped thousands of gallons of water on the flames from buckets, the nearby Assembly of God camp was damaged, and 400 students from the Plano, Texas, Independent School District had to be evacuated from the YMCA’s Camp Classen.

First Baptist Church, Davis, took the students in and provided dinner and shelter for them until buses from Plano arrived around 9 p.m. to take them back home.

Falls Creek hosts dozens of youth, single adult and adult events throughout the year. Three days after the fire threat, Fielding said the camp was preparing to welcome small groups for weekend retreats. The state singles conference is scheduled at the encampment Oct. 6-8 and a state college student retreat is slated Oct. 20-21.

“We had several calls from people concerned about us and we thank everyone who was praying for us,” Fielding said. “That was the key right there. God really took care of us as a result.”

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  • Bob Nigh