Wildfires blacken Arbuckle Mountains


Friday, September 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- An Anadarko teen was accused of starting a wildfire that scorched a Caddo County field while hundreds of firefighters worked to snuff out other fires that continued to burn across the state.

Helicopters slinging huge buckets of water crisscrossed the scorched landscape around the Arbuckle Mountains Thursday in a massive effort to put out a stubborn wildfire that has burned for almost a week and consumed 10,250 acres.

State Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield, D-Ardmore, was part of a delegation of officials that toured the area.

"It looks like someone napalmed it, you know? With the gray-white stuff that looks like snow all over," Crutchfield said.

"It's just devastating," state Rep. Danny Hilliard, D-Sulphur, said.

Local and state firefighters as well as others from the U.S.

Forest Service braced for powerful winds that were expected to blow through the state on Friday.

"We need to get everything under control today," said Albert Ashwood, state Civil Emergency Management Department director. "I say that every day, but the winds tomorrow could really cause a problem."

Winds of as much as 25 mph and 40-mph gusts were forecast Friday, which would push the grass fires in new directions, the National Weather Service said. Relief is in sight, however, late Saturday and Sunday, when there's a chance of rain.

Meanwhile, Caddo County authorities arrested an 18-year-old Anadarko man accused of setting a fire that burned a parched field west of Anadarko on Sept. 11.

Joshua D. East was booked on one count of third-degree arson and one count of endangering human life, Deputy Sheriff Lennis Miller said. Both of the complaints are felonies.

The blaze started about 6:30 a.m. and was extinguished by the Anadarko Fire Department before it destroyed any structures.

"The fire burned up some hay bales and grass in a rural area,"

Miller said. He said other suspects are under investigation for that and other fires that have scorched portions of Caddo County in recent weeks.

"This is just part of an ongoing investigation," he said.

East was being held in the county jail Thursday night and is scheduled to be arraigned on Friday, Miller said.

The State Fire Marshal's Office has said that four fires in Logan County on Tuesday and a fire in LeFlore County were intentionally set, but no arrests have been made.

At least 31 homes were destroyed by wildfires that swept across Logan County on Tuesday. The LeFlore County blaze, which was still burning Thursday afternoon, had destroyed 30 structures and consumed 5,500 acres.

No deaths have been reported, but firefighters and residents across Oklahoma have been treated for heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.

Dozens of wildfires have been reported in Caddo County since a huge fire in August roared out of control in the Binger area.

Firefighters from as far away as Weatherford battled a wildfire southeast of Gracemont that scorched hundreds of acres Thursday.

The Arbuckle fire is the most stubborn and the largest of the more than 100 wildfires that have burned fields and forests and damaged or destroyed at least 60 homes across the state.

Oklahoma Agriculture Secretary Dennis Howard said crop damage from the fires will run into the millions of dollars on top of tens of millions in damage caused by the ongoing drought. Much of central Oklahoma has not had rain in more than 50 days.

Howard estimated crop damage from the Arbuckle Mountains fire alone at $7 million.

Gov. Frank Keating extended the ban on outdoor burning Thursday to include all charcoal and gas grilling. Violation of the statewide burn ban could mean felony arson charges, a fine and possible jail time.

------ On the Net: Oklahoma Department of Agriculture: http://www.state.ok.us/(tilde)okag/ Federal Emergency Management Agency: http://www.fema.gov/media Oklahoma Office of Emergency Services: http://www.onenet.net/(tilde)odcem