Wildfires begin to slow in state; 49 homes burn

Wildfires begin to slow in state; 49 homes burn

13 March 2011

published by www.tulsaworld.com

USA — Wildfires that destroyed dozens of homes in Oklahoma and Texas largely died down Saturday, with cooler temperatures and slower winds helping firefighters get the blazes under control.

In Oklahoma, where at least 49 homes had been destroyed, an emergency management official said no major fires continued to burn, although there were still some hotspots and smoky areas. The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 15 injuries across the state as a result.

In Texas, where a handful of homes were lost, a forest service statement said it expected slower winds and more moisture in the air to help get things under control. Thousands of acres have been burned in both states.

Unseasonably warm temperatures and strong winds helped fuel the fires Friday, when the National Weather Service issued a red flag fire warning for most of Oklahoma and Texas, as well as for parts of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and Missouri.

Thirty fires broke out in Oklahoma, with the worst damage occurring in the Oklahoma City suburbs of Harrah and Choctaw. Thirty-nine homes were lost there, while six were destroyed in Goldsby and four in the Shawnee area. Like much of the state, the burned areas have been in a prolonged drought.

Of the 15 injuries reported, six were firefighters working near Harrah. They were treated on the scene for smoke inhalation, according to the OSDH. Six people also suffered minor burns.

Crews with the Oklahoma Forestry Services responded to 42 fires Friday covering more than 8,600 acres, according to a release from OFS. At one point, all of their resources were committed.

Fires burned large swaths of land in Okmulgee, McIntosh, Okfuskee and Creek counties Friday that sent a smoky haze north through the Tulsa area.

Michelann Ooten, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, said firefighters continued to work in some hotspots, but it was “nothing like what we were doing (Friday).”

Fires in LeFlore and Hughes counties burned more than 3,600 acres Saturday, Ooten said. Winds with gusts of 40 mph to 50 mph had died down, and cooler temperatures had helped ease the situation, she said.

Okmulgee firefighter Jimmy Warner said his department wasn’t working any wildfires Saturday. Friday they provided mutual aid to several departments in Okmulgee County, he said.

Warner said conditions there were much better with calmer winds and cooler temperatures.

A large fire that burned for hours near Beggs was under control and a dispatcher with Beggs police and fire departments said area crews were not working any wildfires Saturday afternoon.

According to OFS, burn bans were in effect Saturday in 31 counties, including Creek, Okfuskee, McIntosh and Payne counties, most of central and southwest Oklahoma and the Panhandle.

Gov. Mary Fallin, who toured fire damage in eastern Oklahoma County, declared a state of emergency for all 77 counties in the state, marking a first step toward seeking federal assistance if necessary.

“State Emergency Management Director Albert Ashwood and I went down to visit with local firefighters in the Choctaw area to thank them for the long hours they have put in today under very dangerous circumstances with the high winds and the low humidity and the heat on the dry grass,” Fallin said.

The Texas Forest Service said it had been asked to respond to 27 fires Friday.

The National Weather Service forecast calls for rain Sunday in the Tulsa area, with temperatures cooling into the upper 50s by Monday. Temperatures will jump back up to near 80 degrees by Thursday with breezy conditions likely, according to the NWS.

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