Grass, brush fires force evacuation of homes in northern and central Oklahoma

Grass, brush fires force evacuation of homes in northern and central Oklahoma

08 August 2011

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USA — Grass fires rekindled Monday in northern Oklahoma, forcing the evacuation of several more homes one day after officials thought they had the threat under control.

Residents in Terlton and some living along Oklahoma Highway 48 were asked to leave as fires driven by the wind spread through the area.

“It’s everywhere,” Cleveland assistant fire chief Ryan Murray said. “The wind’s switching on us. It’s pretty much a firestorm.”

Winds were blowing out of the southwest at just under 15 mph in the Cleveland area, northwest of Tulsa, according to the National Weather Service.

Pawnee Nation Emergency Management Director Monty Matlock said a couple of firefighters suffered minor injuries while helping battle the blaze. Murray and Matlock said some structures were destroyed when the fire initially began on Sunday, but neither knew what type or how many.

At least 30 people who were forced to leave their homes took refuge at the Western Heights Baptist Church in Cleveland, shelter manager Laura Castleberry said.

“They’re evacuating a larger area and we’re anticipating more evacuees,” Castleberry said. “People are coming in here covered in ash because they were trying to save their houses. We have people crying here and they are very upset.”

In Norman, an Oklahoma National Guard helicopter helped battle a brush fire near Lake Thunderbird.

Aerial footage from news helicopters showed at least one structure on fire, but fire officials didn’t immediately confirm that anything homes had burned.

Deputy Fire Chief Jim Bailey said some homes were in the path of the flames.

Lingering drought and excessive heat have combined to dry out grass and trees in the state, creating fuel for the fires. Over the weekend, a fire that began on Thursday rekindled and burned 13 homes and numerous outbuildings in Edmond.

About 1,000 acres were consumed in that fire and about 600 acres were charred in a fire near Asher in Pottawatomie County.

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