The Burning Bush

by Sheilah Bright


In the aftermath of the Creek County fires—during another triple-digit stretch in an already parched Oklahoma—This Land contributing editor Sheilah Bright went to work. With her camera and her pen, and with the insight that only a longtime Creek County correspondent could bring, she captured a land on fire and a life torn asunder.

Leah and Jeff Warren threw 16 cats and a few belongings into their cars on August 4 after a Department of Wildlife official pulled into their driveway and told them to evacuate.

“When I asked about our goats, the guy  said, ‘Leave ’em,’ ” said Jeff. “We couldn’t  stand it, but they wouldn’t let us stay.”

The next day, the Warrens drove  blackened back roads to sneak around the  roadblocks. Pulling down their smoldering  driveway, they found a destroyed house  and two goats, Casper and Prince, lying in  the pen with the gate still open. Charred  grass surrounded the pen except for a small  patch of lawn that Jeff says he let grow up intentionally as a fire break. They spent the next day searching for the other goat,  King. As long as they didn’t stumble upon  his remains, they could hope someone rescued him.

But their home was beyond hope.

“We know what it’s like to start over. We came out here in 2002 with no money or nothing because we were trying to get away from our meth problems,” says Leah. “We just looked at one another and said ‘We’re tired.’ ”

They worked their way from a tent to an RV in a nearby campground until January  1, 2010, when Jeff’s parents bought the house to rent them while Jeff battled medical issues. To keep away from the drugs, they began rescuing cats dumped at Keystone Dam. They say they’ve been clean since moving to the country.

Renter’s insurance may pay enough to get them into an RV. They want to get back to their animals. They wish they’d never spent money on an alarm system.

“My goddam house burnt to the ground,” said Jeff. “And the alarm company still ain’t called to tell me there’s a fire.”

Originally published in This Land, Vol. 3, Issue 17. Sept. 1, 2012.