Wind-whipped Oklahoma wildfires destroy
Saturday, August 4, 2012
NOBLE, Okla. (AP) — A wildfire whipped along by gusty, southerly winds swept through rural woodlands south of the Oklahoma City area on Friday, burning a number of homes as firefighters struggled to contain it in 113-degree heat.
Oklahoma’s emergency management officials said 25 structures had burned east of Noble, including a handful of homes.
The sheriff’s office said some homes “have been lost” and directed residents of 75 to 100 houses to leave the area as flames spread through the treetops.
There were no immediate reports of injuries or livestock losses from the fires, which also charred the earth near Geary and Luther.
With an ongoing drought, high temperatures and gusty winds, it took little for fires to begin and spread and there was little crews could do to fight them.
“It’s difficult for the firefighters to get into the area because it’s heavily wooded on either side of the smaller roads. When the winds are blowing 25 mph it just blows the embers and fireballs across the roads as if they weren’t even there,” said Jerry Lojka, an official with the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.
At mid-afternoon Friday, the temperature at nearby Norman was 113. Winds were from the south and southwest at 14 mph, gusting to 24 mph.
“I can tell you the temperatures and the wind are not helping the situation at all. Some homes have been lost in the fire unfortunately, but we don’t know how many,” said Meghan McCormick, a spokeswoman for the Cleveland County Sheriff’s office.
The fire started about noon and crews from multiple agencies were summoned. The evacuation area, south of Lake Thunderbird, is about 30 square miles.
Russell Moore, 53, who lives in the Noble area, said he was outside in his yard when a Cleveland County Sheriff’s deputy drove down the road and told people to leave. He and his son went to a shelter set up at the Noble City Hall, but planned to go to his daughter’s home in Norman.
“About all we saw was smoke and a little bit of ash raining down from the sky,” Moore said. “Everybody was piling into their vehicles and leaving as we were.”
Lojka said an Oklahoma National Guard helicopter has been dispatched to a fast-moving blaze in Luther, northeast of Oklahoma City. He also said helicopters were helping ground crews with a fire near Mannford and Drumright in Creek County. Helicopters from the National Guard and the Bureau of Indian Affairs were fighting a fire in Creek County.
Eleven fires in all were being monitored by the state Friday afternoon. Gov. Mary Fallin announced a statewide burn ban as the fire danger heightened Friday. She had previously announced a state of emergency for all 77 counties due to the extreme drought.
Associated Press writers Rochelle Hines and Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.