Oklahoma wildfires mostly under containment

Wednesday, December 28th 2005, 5:07 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Officials declared a state of emergency for Oklahoma Friday because of wildfire conditions, sought a federal disaster declaration and enlisted firefighting help from other states after a series of blazes burned across 30,000 acres, destroying nearly 100 homes and businesses and leaving one man dead.

Gov. Brad Henry, who cut a vacation short and was traveling back to Oklahoma Friday, authorized state officials to ask other Southern states for 14 firefighting teams, each including two bulldozers, two fire engines and eight firefighters. Teams from Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and North Carolina were en route.

Dozens of grass fires in 22 counties were largely contained by Friday, but firefighters were concerned that some of the blazes could rekindle or new ones could start as temperatures were forecast to increase and winds were expected to pick up through the holiday weekend. Most of the fires began in a windstorm Tuesday.

"With wildfire conditions dangerously high and no relief in sight, we will do everything humanly possible to protect Oklahoma lives and property," Henry sasid in a statement. "Our local firefigthers and firrst responders are doing a great job, but the need additional support."

Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin, who toured fire-damaged areas of central Oklahoma Friday, declared a state of emergency for all 77 Oklahoma counties and sought a federal disaster declaration that would bring low-interest federal loans to cover some of the fire damage.

She held a news conference at a fire station in northeast Oklahoma City, holding a piece of a burned up fire hose. She said many rural fire departments had lost hoses and other equipment as the grass fires swept under fire trucks in the field.

"It's ridiculous how dry we are out here," Albert Ashwood, director of the Oklahoma Department of Emegency Management, said at the news conference. He said officials are worried about high winds expected to rake the state Sunday and again on Tuesday. Combined with low humidities, "that's a recipe for disaster," he said.

A grass fire that has scorched nearly 10,000 acres and destroyed 10 homes near the small town of Achille in southern Oklahoma's Bryan County broke containment lines Friday morning, but firefighters aided by a water-dropping helicopter were able to bring it back under control later in the day, Achille Fire Chief Dean Collins said.

"The fire departments have done an outstanding job working tirelessly and without sleep," Bryan County Emergency Manager Tim Cooke said Friday. "We're trying to get it suppressed before Sunday, when humidities are supposed to be less than 20 percent and temperatures will be in the high 70s. We are hoping and praying that we will have everything calm down before Sunday."

Oklahoma has been locked in a dry spell, with winds easing at night and in the morning and then increasing in the afternoon. Winds gusted to more than 40 mph Tuesday. The state is more than a foot behind its normal rainfall of about 36 inches for this time of year.

The causes of most of the fires haven't been determined. Some have been blamed on fireworks or arcing power lines. In addition to the one death, there have been a handful of minor injuries, mostly from smoke inhalation.

Flames flared in eastern Oklahoma County, in the state's midsection, Thursday, threatening homes and spreading to about 1,000 acres before firefighters could bring the fires under control.