New Life Ranch fire fails to halt operation

A fire at New Life Ranch destroyed the gym and a connected building Friday afternoon. Although no one was injured, five interns living in the adjoining structure lost everything they had at the camp, located in Colcord, Okla. The cause of the fire is not yet known.

Despite the fire, the camp continued serving the groups scheduled for the weekend, which included the John Brown University Cathedral Choir, which arrived after 6 p.m. on Friday for a weekend retreat.

Scott Shaw, director of ministries at New Life Ranch, said members of the ranch’s facilities team were working outside when they first saw the smoke from the gym. When they went in, the fire was already spreading very fast, and they did not have time to get anything out.

Tom Schafer, chief of the Flint Ridge, Okla. volunteer fire department, said his station received the alarm at about 2:45 p.m. His department and the one from West Siloam, Okla. arrived within about five minutes of one another.

They focused on containing the fire and keeping it from spreading, Schafer said. He called the fire “pretty intense.”

He heard that the building was from the 1970s, with wood framing inside. That made it burn fast.

Shaw added that the insulation inside the building probably fueled the fire.

“It was a pretty fast, crazy day,” he said.

Pictures of the fire posted on New Life Ranch’s Facebook page showed the metal structure surrounded by thick smoke, sometimes with flames shooting out of the gym windows. A wooden climbing wall inside one end of the gym created a lot of the fuel for the fire, a photo caption said.

Members of the New Life Ranch staff initially worked to fight the fire until the fire departments arrived, Shaw said.

“The volunteer departments in our community did really well,” Shaw said. “We are very appreciative of all their help.”

A total of seven fire departments showed up, sources said. Schafer mentioned Flint Ridge, Watts, Kansas, Oaks, Colcord and West Siloam. The Siloam Springs department also responded to assist. Schafer said his department did not leave until nearly 7 p.m.

Eventually, the roof and the metal walls of the structure collapsed. The fire continued burning inside for many hours.

Other than the gym and the intern housing, the only damage was to a small “yurt,” a tent-type structure with vinyl siding use for meetings. Because of its proximity to the heat of the fire, the siding sustained some damage.

Junior Lynnette McClarty works at the Ranch as an employee and has been involved in various ways there for many years. She watched throughout Friday afternoon as the gym burned.

“It’s sad,” she said. “The gym was there for a long time and there are lots of good memories from it. But at the same time, it was old and the insurance will cover it. So it isn’t a huge loss. Just more of an inconvenience not to have it for this retreat season.”

She said that once the staff realized the gym was on fire, it was too late to actually save the structure.

“There was a concentrated effort to put out the fire, but no one was panicky or hysterical,” McClarty said. “The ranch community did a great job pulling together and helping how they could.”

Once the fire was under control, McClarty said they put caution tape around it and it did not cause much of a disruption in the flow of the scheduled retreats. The facilities team did take shifts overnight, however, to watch the hotspots and make sure they did not start burning again.

Shaw said the staff was glad the fire did not spread and that the ranch could continue to serving the University’s choir and a junior high group which came from Little Rock, Ark. for a camp.

“The ministry of the ranch is still going, and we thank the Lord for that,” said Shaw. “God is still good and sovereign, and he has a plan for the ranch.”

Shaw said that ranch’s main focus right now is making sure the five interns have a new place to live and can start replacing what they lost in the fire.

The camp set up a fund for donations to help with that. Financial contributions can be made through New Life Ranch’s website ( under “Intern Fire Recovery.”

McClarty said the ranch staff took the five guys to WalMart so they could get some essentials. Eventually they would also need furniture and kitchen items for the housing they would move into.

Since the cause remains unknown, the ranch will keep the site of the fire closed off until the fire marshal comes out Monday morning to do a report and hopefully give the staff an idea of what happened. Then the ranch staff could go in and see what could be salvaged, have the insurance check it out, and begin planning how to replace the building.