Storms helps wildfire situation, but not enough to lift burn ban


Monday, September 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- An early fall storm system was enough to put out the lingering flames of a destructive wildfire and bring a taste of winter to the Panhandle. But officials say it wasn't enough to lift a statewide ban on outdoor burning.

Widespread precipitation late Saturday and early Sunday helped put out wildfires that had been burning for days, but it only put a small dent in a drought problem brought on by several months of extreme heat and no rain, officials said.

About a quarter-inch of rain fell in the Arbuckle Mountains in south-central Oklahoma, where dozens of firefighters had been struggling all week to extinguish a series of fires that charred an estimated 11,500 acres.

The flames were out Sunday, Davis dispatcher Opal Dodson said.

"As of right now the fires are under control. I don't think we have any flames at this time," Dodson said.

Even more rain fell in central and eastern Oklahoma, where a tornado warning was issued Saturday night. No damage or injuries were reported.

Some of the higher rainfall amounts Saturday through Sunday included 1.24 inches in Tulsa; 1.47 inches in Muskogee; 1.69 inches in Oklahoma City; 2.42 inches in Anadarko; 2.54 inches in Blanchard; 2.70 inches in Shawnee; 2.82 inches in Dustin, 2.92 inches in Prague and 3.07 inches in Wetumka.

"The rainstorms are certainly going to help a little bit, but I don't think it's going to last too long. We didn't get enough where we needed it," said Ron Hill, deputy director with the state Department of Civil Emergency Management.

Places like Gage in western Oklahoma only got 0.02 inches of rain and Ponca City received only 0.07 inches.

The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry Services will determine when the fire danger has been significantly reduced. The division may recommend removal of individual counties as conditions change, officials said.

"Generally, more than 1 inch of rain is needed to remove the burn ban from any one county," said Pat McDowell, the assistant director of forestry. "However, that depends on a variety of factors, including the depth of the drought, the intensity and duration of the rain, next week's forecast and how the vegetation responds to the rain."

The dry conditions have kept wheat farmers from planting the fall wheat crop, said Jack Carson, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture.

"It was unfortunate that western and central Oklahoma did not get enough rain," Carson said. "The loss of wheat pasture grazing is economically devastating."

Wheat crops benefit from cattle grazing during development, he said. Farmers can accrue some savings by not having to pay for feed.

With the rain came a break from the above-normal temperatures seen in August and September. Highs on Sunday ranged from the upper 40s in the Panhandle to the upper 60s in far southeastern Oklahoma.

Oklahoma City tied a record on Friday when its daytime high reached 96 degrees. About 48 hours later, the temperature in the state's capital topped out at 56 degrees.

The temperature kept on falling in the western Oklahoma Panhandle overnight. The National Weather Service in Amarillo, Texas, issued a freeze warning for Cimarron County.

Forecasters expected clear skies, light north winds and drier air to allow temperatures to fall to or just below 32 degrees. With the freeze expected to last for several hours, damage to tender vegetation was possible, forecasters warned.

After a day of gray, overcast skies, the sun should return to all the state on Monday and a slow warming trend was in store.

Highs should reach the 80s by the week's end, with another chance of thunderstorms entering the forecast for southwestern Oklahoma, forecasters said.

------ For more information on the burn ban, go to www.state.ok.us/tildeokag/redflag/rainnban.html.