US Senator Jim Inhofe takes a personal look at Oklahoma's wildfires

Monday, January 2nd 2006, 10:50 am
By: News On 6

The state Department of Agriculture estimates wildfires have burned at least 285,000 acres since November 1st.

It's hard to get a handle on the scope of the devastation from the ground. Monday afternoon, US Senator Jim Inhofe took to the skies to get the big picture.

News on 6 reporter Joshua Brakhage flew with the senator and has a look from above. US Senator Jim Inhofe was up in his plane at the peak of this weekend's wildfires. No matter where he flew, across the horizon he could spot at least four fires burning.

In the daylight, he returned to survey the damage Monday afternoon. What were Oklahoma farms and timberlands are now black blankets of ash. Even the control tower wonders how widespread the wildfires were.Tower: "Just let me know when you're done, and was there a lot of damage out there? Jim Inhofe: "Not like yesterday, but there is one farm just sound of Bristow that was completely wiped out and it's still burning.” Tower: "We could see the fire from here last night." A day later, it's still smouldering.

A barn full of hay, acres of cropland, and several vehicles, completely charred. Jim Inhofe: "But he saved his house." The only thing the fire didn't destroy. South of Stroud, new hotpots flare up. Josh Brakhage: "And it's something, how they just start up." Inhofe: "Yeah, I know it, because that wasn't burning an hour ago."

Inhofe says every farm he flies over is another heartbreaking tale of loss. Jim Inhofe: "That's a planted pecan orchard, and I don't think they can sustain that sort of thing. That's a huge part of his livelihood, probably 50 percent of it."

Senator Jim Inhofe says FEMA has already approved disaster grants for the communities of Bethel Acres and Shamrock. 10 more could be approved in the coming weeks. For the folks in the path of these wildfires, the funds can't come soon enough.

The federal government has sent 8 airplanes and 5 helicopters to fight wildfires across the state. The US Forest Service has set up a mobile command post to coordinate the air-attack on the fires.