Damages from grass fires estimated in the millions

Wednesday, January 4th 2006, 1:25 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Grass fires that have charred more than 350,000 acres in Oklahoma have also caused millions of dollars in damage to houses and businesses, but the total will not be known until a statewide assessment is performed, officials said Wednesday.

Preliminary estimates of structural damage caused by grass fires since Nov. 1 placed the total at $10 million, but actual damages are expected to be far higher, said Michelle Finch, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

"We know that the losses are in the millions," Finch said.

The preliminary estimate was prepared on Saturday when an estimated 200 structures were known to have been destroyed by grass fires, Finch said. Officials arrived at the estimate by attaching a $50,000 value to each of the structures, she said.

But some houses destroyed in Mustang, Seminole and eastern Oklahoma City in the past 10 days were valued at far more than $50,000. And the preliminary estimate did not include damage to structures that were not destroyed, crop damage and other costs.

Michelann Ooten, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Civil Emergency Management, said an estimated 220 structures have been destroyed by grass fires since Nov. 1. Ooten said her agency has not prepared a damage estimate.

"It's just too early to know that stuff," she said.

Finch said state foresters are focused on containing the grass fires and will assess the damage they caused once they are out.