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Steady rainfall needed to end wildfires

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Though rain showered most of Oklahoma on Saturday, it wasn't enough to end a relentless wildfire season in the state, a weather official said.

``Don't let today's rain fool you and cause you to put your guard down,'' Ty Judd, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said on Saturday. ``Don't let this make you think the wildfires are over.''

Wildfires have scorched more that 400,000 acres, killed two people and destroyed more than 250 homes and businesses since Nov. 1.

The state is more than 12 inches behind on it's annual rainfall, Judd said.

``The rain helps in the short-term, but we need much more of it,'' he said. ``It wouldn't be good to get it all at one time either. We need a healthy balance.''

Several days of a general, moderate rain would alleviate fire conditions, Judd said. Oklahoma has experienced an unseasonably warm winter, with low humidity and little precipitation.

The dry weather pattern is expected to persist for the next two to three months, Judd said.

The extreme southwest region of the state hadn't received any rain by Saturday afternoon and was under a red flag warning, indicating critical fire conditions.

Officials at the Incident Command Post in Shawnee said they hadn't received reports of any fires Saturday afternoon, but had water supplies and bulldozers on standby in case of a possible outbreak.

``The rain is taking the edge off at this time, but because of the long-term drought conditions the burn ban is still in effect,'' Rob Kopack, a fire information officer, said.

The burn ban prohibits Oklahomans from outdoor burning of any kind, including burning trash and making campfires.

President Bush issued a federal disaster declaration for Oklahoma two weeks ago, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay 75 percent of the cost of battling the blazes and provide temporary housing for Oklahomans whose homes were destroyed. The state and local governments must pay the balance.
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