Hundreds flee new rash of Oklahoma wildfires
Authorities hope rain in forecast will help douse flames
YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS
(CNN) -- New grassland wildfires spread across the prairies of southern Oklahoma on Wednesday, destroying numerous homes and forcing more than 500 people to evacuate, authorities said.
Two firefighters were caught in the fires and suffered burns, including one who is in critical condition at a burn center in an Oklahoma City hospital, authorities said.
Duncan Fire Department spokesman Sam Darst said one suspected arsonist was in custody and that a second person was being sought in connection with the fires.
The fires were compounded by winds over 30 mph and temperatures in the 90-degree range. The blazes are spreading across some of the same parts of the state that were hit by fires that charred thousands of acres in December. (Watch families running, dogs in arms, horses in tow -- 3:44)
"Most of Stephens County, the south end, is burning," a sheriff's dispatcher said.
In Duncan, about 80 miles southwest of Oklahoma City, six homes were ablaze Wednesday night. Asked how many had been destroyed, Darst said "too many to count."
More than 500 people evacuated their homes in Duncan, the nearby town of Meridian and the surrounding countryside to take shelter at the Stephens County fairgrounds in Duncan and Comanche to the south, Darst said.
Firefighters were hindered Wednesday by the shifting winds, which blew south, then west, then east over the course of the day, he said.
"It made the fire hard to contain because the fire actually made three sides of a circle and just kept jumping and jumping as the wind switched," he said.
There were no other reports of injuries in Stephens County, but helicopters from the air ambulance service Air Evac were sent to Ringling, in neighboring Jefferson County, to bring patients to a hospital in Ardmore, company spokesman Julie Heavrin said.
At least one person was flown to Ardmore from Ringling, but Heavrin said she did not know how many others needed help evacuating.
Weather over the next few days might offer some relief, as the wind is expected to shift northward Wednesday night, ushering in cooler temperatures and higher humidity, National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Curl said. There also is a chance of showers Thursday and Friday, he said.
More fires were reported east of Oklahoma City, near Shawnee, and in the Tulsa area. However, the biggest blazes were around Duncan, state government spokeswoman Anna Payne said. About a dozen smaller fires had been extinguished, she said, adding that no injuries had been reported.
The blazes follow a string of brush fires two months ago that destroyed dozens of homes and scorched tens of thousands of acres across Texas and Oklahoma.
Oklahoma City posted a record high of 91 degrees Wednesday, and the state has been experiencing the second-driest six-month period since 1917, according to the National Weather Service. The state received only a quarter-inch of rain between late October and January.
The previous record high for this date was 85 degrees, set in 1976. The normal high temperature for Oklahoma City this time of year is 58, Curl said.
|© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.