Wildfires pop up across Oklahoma on Saturday

Sunday, January 8th 2006, 11:25 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The locations of more than 20 wildfires on Saturday dotted a map inside the statewide fire command center in Shawnee, but fire officials say Oklahoma still dodged a bullet.

``We really got lucky and didn't have the higher winds that we thought we might,'' said Sarah Gracey, an information officer at the command center. ``As dry as we are and the fuel that's out there, if you added high winds to that, we could have been in a much worse situation.

``So in a way, we did get lucky.''

The largest of Saturday's wildfires burned about 1,000 acres near Sayre, and two Jacktown volunteer firefighters were injured while trying to escape a fast-moving wildfire in Lincoln County that burned about 100 acres and threatened several structures.

The two volunteers, whose names weren't immediately released, were taken to a nearby hospital with cuts after they were thrown from the back of fire trucks trying to escape the flames, said Assistant Jacktown Fire Chief Brandon Mayes.

The blaze briefly trapped one Meeker Fire Department brush truck in the fire, scorching its door and melting plastic from a side-view mirror.

``I could feel the heat of the fire coming up through the bottom of my pant leg,'' said Meeker firefighter Matt Willis, who was on the back of a truck spraying water on the fire.

Another large grass fire broke out near Cross Timbers Elementary School in north Edmond and quickly swept into an adjacent field, fueled by dry conditions and wind gusts up to 25 miles per hour.

There were no reports of structure fires or injuries, but the fire moved toward the Oak Tree Country Club golf course and a neighborhood of new homes. Trent Hancock, who works at the club's pro shop said he could see flames and smoke as the fire crept toward the property.

``We've got the sprinklers on, and we went out on the course and cleared everyone from the area,'' Hancock said.

Two separate 300-acre fires were reported near Tulsa, Gracey said.

Additional fire crews were sent to Shawnee, Stillwater, Bartlesville, Ada and Ardmore to prepare for additional grassfires, while Oklahoma City fire crews geared up with nine extra brush pumpers.

Gracey said having fire crews on standby around the state helps teams respond more quickly when wildfires pop up.

``When you have crews on standby, that really improves your initial attack capabilities,'' she said. ``You get a fire that's a couple of acres instead of a couple thousand acres.''

Gov. Brad Henry expanded the statewide burn ban Thursday_ in effect since Nov. 15 _ to prohibit campfires and outdoor charcoal grilling. The expanded ban also includes stricture requirements on outdoor welding.

The Oklahoma City Fire Department battled about 900 fires in 2005 and expects to exceed that number for 2006, if the dry weather conditions persist, said Oklahoma City Fire Maj. Brian Stanaland.

``We fought 43 fires last Sunday alone,'' he said. ``This has just been unbelievable.''

Statewide, grass fires have killed two people, burned across 363,341 acres and destroyed more than 220 homes and businesses since Nov. 1.