Grass fires destroy at least 54 Oklahoma homes

Grass fires destroy at least 54 Oklahoma homes

12 March 2011

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USA — “It was just a worst-case scenario,” said Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Mark Myers, who said gusting winds and dry conditions caused the fires to spread rapidly on Friday afternoon.

At least one fire may have been caused by someone burning trash, Myers said. Police are also investigating reports another fire was intentionally set in Harrah, a suburb of Oklahoma City located about 20 miles east of the state capital.

The fire in Harrah forced the evacuation of schools, neighborhoods and one nursing home, where 20 patients had to be transferred by ambulance, he said.

A “handful” of firefighters suffered injuries, but nothing worse than smoke inhalation and heat exposure, Myers said.

Gov. Mary Fallin, who declared a state of emergency in all 77 counties of Oklahoma on Friday, inspected fire-damaged parts of Harrah on Saturday.

More than 200 homes were destroyed by Oklahoma grass fires in 2009, but officials do not know yet if that figure will be exceeded by the fires yesterday, said Michelann Ooten, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

State officials are trying to determine how many people who lost their homes on Friday are covered by insurance, Ooten said.

In all, 24 grass fires were reported in Oklahoma on Friday. Firefighters continued to douse hot spots on Saturday. Oklahoma has been under a ban on outdoor burning due to the dry conditions.

Even though the winds on Saturday have returned to calm, Ooten said conditions remain dangerous for wildfires.

“Throwing a cigarette out a car window could be the difference between someone having a home or not having a home,” she said.

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