Wildfires continue to rage across Oklahoma

Monday, January 16th 2006, 10:08 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Firefighters battled a stubborn grass fire near Stillwater Monday as cooler weather and a chance of rain combined to give firefighting crews a chance for relief from grass fires.

Almost 414,000 acres have been scorched and more than 250 homes and businesses have been destroyed by grass fires since Nov. 1, authorities said. Fires that have spread across more than 30 counties have also caused two deaths.

The Stillwater fire was one of at least 18 wildfires that firefighters battled on Sunday. The fire had scorched 580 acres before it was contained early Monday, said Mark Bays, fire information officer at the state's incident command center in Shawnee.

Bays said firefighters continued to monitor the area to prevent the grass fire from flaring up again.

Firefighters also contained three smaller fires early Monday, said fire information officer Tracy Farley. A fire near McAlester scorched 15 acres, one near Caddo scorched 22 acres and a fire at Payden burned 450 acres, she said.

No structures were destroyed in the blazes, authorities said.

Meanwhile, forecasters said a cold front that brought cloudy skies to the state will also bring a chance of rain overnight, mainly in the eastern half of the state. Some thunderstorms could be severe with damaging winds and large hail.

"We can only hope for a lot of rain," Bays said. "A little bit won't get us where we want to go."

Sunday's fires were fueled by high winds and dry conditions. A fire west of Beggs forced the evacuation of several homes and prompted the closure of State Highway 16, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol reported. That fire destroyed an estimated 375 acres, Farley said.

A separate blaze near Sperry north of Tulsa destroyed at least one home and threatened several others, burning about 300 acres, Farley said.

Two other fires near Kellyville in northeast Oklahoma charred an estimated 800 acres, Farley said.

"There were extremely hazardous weather conditions today," she said. "The winds died down a little this afternoon, which gave a little relief to the firefighters.

"I think the cloud cover this afternoon helped a little bit too."

Fire crews also battled a grass fire in Weldon, located in the northeastern part of the state, where about 50 acres were charred before their arrival.

President Bush issued a federal disaster declaration for the state of Oklahoma last week. The declaration gave immediate access to federal funding for affected individuals in 12 Oklahoma counties. Officials said other counties may be added.