State fire conditions called critical

Saturday, November 12th 2005, 2:44 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Volunteer firefighters say arsonists and dry weather have created dangerous terrain and near record fires in eastern Oklahoma this year.

``The wildland fires are reaching a critical point across the state, and that's due to lack of moisture, and then we have ... accidental or intentionally set fires,'' said state Fire Marshal Robert Doke. ``Statewide, we're pretty much at the mercy of the weather right now.''

The state is in one of the worst conditions Doke has ever seen.

Oklahoma has had four times more acres scorched through 10 days this month when compared to the November average, said Jack Carson, spokesman for the state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department. The typical November brings 109 fires and 2,003 acres burned in eastern Oklahoma.

This year, at least 111 fires have been reported and more than 8,063 acres have been lost, Carson said.

``That shows a huge tap on our resources,'' he said. ``Our firefighters have just been so overwhelmed.''

Department firefighting dollars are running low with seven months left in the annual budget, Carson said. If fires continue to burn, department officials could request more money from the federal government or transfer funds from other areas.

He said cutting service is not an option.

The entire state is under a red flag alert, and outdoor burning has been banned in the southeastern counties of Bryan, Choctaw, Latimer, Le Flore, McCurtain and Pushmataha.

Although Doke and Carson didn't have arson numbers for that region, they said there's no doubt they've increased.

Another area struggling with arsons this month is northeastern Oklahoma, said John Wylie, spokesman for Claremore-Rogers County Emergency Management. He said officials are investigating at least five recent cases in the Rogers, Nowata, Mayes and Washington counties area.

At least one civilian was injured and a fire truck was destroyed in those fires.

``It's crazy,'' he said. ``We're at the point where people need to think about their fellow man.''