Across the state, wildfires that began Thursday continued to consume everything in their path. Firefighters who worked through the night came back to battle blazes Friday. The fires and fire-related incidents are blamed for the injuries of 57 people, said Patrice Greenawalt, trauma division director of the Department of Health. Some people suffered burns, while others were injured in wrecks caused by heavy smoke on roadways, Greenawalt said. A volunteer firefighter in Lincoln County remained in critical condition after his truck was hit by flames and he suffered second- and third-degree burns. Tornadoes that hit eastern Oklahoma on Thursday evening injured five, officials said. Across the state, nearly 200 structures were damaged, including nearly 167 homes, according to the state Department of Emergency Management. Nine rural electricity providers experienced power outages caused by wildfires, high winds, tornadoes and severe thunderstorms that hit the state Thursday and Friday. Officials estimate electric cooperatives lost nearly $447,300 worth of electrical distribution and transmission structures. Here’s a look at the situation across the state:
CARTER COUNTYFires continued to flare up in parts of northwestern Carter County on Friday. Officials estimated that 50 to 75 homes and structures were either destroyed or damaged by wind-fueled wild fires in south central Oklahoma, said Patricia Whitener, manager of the south central chapter of the Red Cross. The Department of Emergency Management estimated that 29 homes and three businesses in Carter County were destroyed. Whitener said officials continued to survey the areas hit hardest in the northwestern portion of the county near Ratliff City. "There are still some fires out there that aren’t under control,” Whitener said. Whitener said most people had found a place to stay. "We haven’t had high attendance in the shelters, but that’s pretty common,” she said. "Most people are offered a place to stay by family and friends.” Whitener said the Red Cross’ disaster assessment is expected to be finished today. "If we don’t have any further outbreaks,” she said.
LINCOLN COUNTYFirefighters battled flames near Chandler into the night Thursday. Emergency Management chief Larry Hicks said he worked at the command center until midnight. He said three mobile homes were destroyed. "I’ve been in this business for 35 years, and I’ve seen a lot of years where we had major fires, but I’ve never seen a day where we had so many at the same time so close together,” Hicks said. Firefighters raced up and down the road near Debbie Connelly’s home south of Interstate 44 on Oak Road until the wee hours. "The fire was so strange. It went around our house and it took all of the grass around us and then burned toward the interstate,” Connelly said. "Even at midnight, the ashes were so many that it looked like it was snowing.” In Wellston, firefighter Charles Danker called it a scene of "hell on Earth,” his description of a fast-moving wildfire that threatened the Lincoln County community and forced residents to flee. The wildfire, which started about 3 p.m. Thursday and continued through the early hours Friday, scorched more than 800 acres and destroyed three mobile homes, along with several outbuildings. The fire briefly rekindled Friday afternoon but was extinguished. One firefighter suffered second- and third-degree burns when he was caught up in flames along near State Highway 66 at the southern edge of town. His fire truck was destroyed. The fire started south and west of town. Fanned by 45 mph winds, it quickly spread northeast, jumping across the Turner Turnpike. Heavy smoke drifting across the turnpike, SH 66 and SH 102 forced the closure of those roads for a short time. As the fire reached near SH 66, which forms the southern edge of Wellston, some 80 firefighters from 16 fire departments made a stand against the flames. And for good reason, as a potentially explosive scene was on the horizon. Crews feared the worst as flames made their way toward SH 66 near Green’s Propane. And to the east, a short hop away, stood a travel center with an array of fuel pumps. Danker, a training officer for the Wellston Volunteer Fire Department, said the wildfire was the worst he’s seen around the area. "It was unbelievable,” he said, noting that bountiful cedar trees in the area literally exploded.
GARVIN, McCLAIN COUNTIESFarmer Rodney Harmon searched for missing cattle Friday morning on his land north of Lindsay. He owns about 410 acres and lost his barn and an antique grain truck. He spent the day looking for seven cows, four calves and a bull. "I’m depending on those calves to make a payment at the bank,” he said. Even if he finds them, there isn’t any grass left for them to eat. Wildfires stretched across six miles and burned nearly 8,000 acres, fire officials said. At least 18 structures, many of them homes, were destroyed.
STEPHENS COUNTYTwo National Guard helicopters circled above Velma on Friday, dumping 660-gallon water buckets atop three raging fires on the outskirts of the already devastated community. The town had already lost 16 homes and five downtown businesses. "It’s been pretty rough going for those who lost their homes,” said Monte Tadlock, a Velma firefighter who spent five hours in the hospital Thursday night with smoke inhalation. "The emotions are everywhere.” On Thursday, volunteer firefighters stood their ground on downtown streets to battle running fires from the west. Some battles were lost, resulting in the destruction of 15 area homes and five businesses. Velma, a town of 660 people, closed school and focused all its resources on snuffing out the fires as they moved south of town. Officials estimate 16 homes were destroyed in Stephens County. Contributing: Staff Writers Jennifer Griswold, Ron Jackson and John Williams, and MANNY GAMALLO and Clifton Adcock of the Tulsa World