Share “Homes burned and evacuated, roads closed...”

Homes burned and evacuated, roads closed due to grassfires across Oklahoma

FROM STAFF REPORTS Modified: April 9, 2009 at 11:56 pm •  Published: April 9, 2009
Update 11:55pm
Oklahoma City's congresswoman, Rep. Mary Fallin, visited with officials at the Midwest City command post to see what kind of assistance the federal government could provide to local officials.

She visited residents displaced by the fire and will take a helicopter tour of the area today, she said.

"I'm not surprised at the outpouring of assistance throughout the state," Fallin said. "Oklahoma does a super job when it comes to emergencies and people pulling together."

--------------------------

Homes burned and residents fled to shelters as wild fires encouraged by dry conditions and southwest winds gusting at more than 40 miles per hour ravaged the state Thursday.

Particularly hard hit was Midwest City, where about 100 homes were destroyed and hundreds of people were evacuated from several neighborhoods.

One firefighter suffered severe burns fighting a blaze in Lincoln County. Other injuries were reported across the state, but none serious.

The fires also caused authorities to close major state highways and several portions of Interstate 35.

Buildings across state set aflame, residents evacuate
Authorities in Lindsay said 11 homes were destroyed and two others were in danger from a fire along State Highway 76 north of Lindsay.

Lindsay Fire Chief Jay Selzer said the fire was stretching at least 61/2 miles on both sides of State Highway 76. Residents of about 100 homes in the area were evacuated as firefighters battled the blaze into the night.

Selzer said a firefighter and a bystander were treated for heat exhaustion, but there were no serious injuries.

Kevin Rhoads, Purcell Emergency Management Director, said 12-15 square miles were burned.

Brenda Nunn, who lives on State Highway 76 about eight miles north of Lindsay, said she went outside and began watering the grass around her home when she heard about the approaching fire at 3 p.m.

A sheriff's deputy came by and told her to evacuate. Nunn said she couldn't even take her car; she left her home in a sheriff's car.

“The smoke was so heavy, I couldn't see the flame,” Nunn said. “I just left the hose running.”

Nunn said the last she heard, her house was OK, but the house behind hers was burned. She planned to stay with relatives Thursday night.

Authorities said those in the evacuated area were being sent to the Purcell Fire Department, where they would be given further instructions on where they could stay for the night.

In Choctaw, residents of evacuated homes waited outside a tire store.

"There wasn't time to get nothing," said Willie Bennett, 69, a retired mechanic.

Bennett was worried about three dogs he left at his house near Choctaw High School.

"Man, how did this get started?" he said.

Another evacuated Choctaw homeowner, Benny Workman, 65, said police came door to door asking people to leave.

"They came banging on the doors telling us to get the heck out of there," he said.

Workman said he grabbed valuables, documents, his dog and some dog food.

"The smoke was so thick," he said.

Three fires were burning out of control in Lincoln County, said Ben Springfield, deputy emergency managment director for the county.

A firefighter suffered major burns while battling a blaze and was taken to an Oklahoma City hospital, Chandler Emergency Management Director Larry Hicks said.

“We had one truck that got overrun,” Hicks said. “It's pretty severe.”

Residents of the Lincoln County town of Sparks, population 150, were told to evacuate their residences.

Homes have been burned south of Wellston, he said. Other homes have been evacuated northeast of Chandler.

"There is no count yet but there have been several homes lost," Springfield said.

He said two firefighters needed medical assistance at one of the fires.

"The fires have moved rapidly out of control northeast," Springfield said.

Areas of southeast Oklahoma City near Lake Stanley Draper were also evacuated as firefighters battled a large wild fire near SE 134 and Anderson Road.

As many as 5,000 OG&E customers were without power Thursday night, officials said.

Several grassfires near Velma and Loco have forced evacuations. Those leaving were asked to go to the Stephens County Fairgrounds in Duncan, said the county's emergency manager.

Wind grounds helicopters
High winds complicated efforts to fight the numerous fires across the state.

Albert Ashwood, state emergency management director, said winds across much of the state were a sustained 30 miles per hour, gusting to more than 40 miles per hour.

"We're trying to do all we can and everything we can to help the local firefighters out there,” Ashwood said. “When the winds are this high there is not a lot you can do but let it burn.”

He said conditions are too windy for helicopters to drop water on any fires.

Highways, Interstate closed
Authorities closed Interstate 35 at Exit 55 in Murray County as smoke from grassfires caused hazardous driving conditions.

The fire, north of Turner Falls near Davis, caused the Oklahoma Highway Patrol to close the Interstate in both directions.

Troopers also closed I-35 at mile marker 186 near Perry because of fire. Further south, I-35 was closed along with State Highway 51 west of Stillwater. A Payne County Sheriff's dispatcher said smoke from the fires caused several wrecks on I-35. Some of those wrecks caused minor injuries, the dispatcher said.

Stillwater firefighters were battling the blaze, along with firefighters from other cities in the area.

Red Cross sets up shelters
The American Red Cross of Central Oklahoma opened a shelter at the Alex School, State Highway 19 and Main Street, in Grady County to provide food, drinks and housing to the residents of nearby Bradley, who were asked to evacuate.

Red Cross workers were also providing food and water at the evacuation center at the Midwest City Community Center, located at North Midwest Blvd. and Reno. Red Cross spokeswoman April Wilkerson said the center is open to anyone who has been evacuated, even if they don't live in Midwest City.

The Payne County Red Cross also opened a shelter at the Stillwater Community Center, Wilkerson said.

The Red Cross also sent emergency response vehicles to several areas across the state to provide food and drinks to firefighters battling the flames.

Wilkerson said all the shelters opened are short term evacuation shelters, not long-term housing for those whose houses might have burned down.

“We're just kind of watching the damage,” Wilkerson said. “We'll work with the local authorities to see if anything more long term is needed.”

Contributing: Staff Writers Michael Kimball, Ann Kelley, Robert Medley, Brian Sargent, Nolan Clay, Jennifer Griswold


Update: 8:53 p.m.

Angie Jarman, who lives about eight miles north of Lindsay, will spend the night sitting alongside a county road near State Highway 76 and hope her home is still there in the morning.

Earlier Thursday she received a call from her daughter and sons from the home, saying a fire was close. She dashed home and was stopped by police who eventually let her pass when she explained she had children there. Police gave her 10 minutes.

"Photos were all I had time to grab," she said. "That and my dad's medicine, and that's it.

Continue reading this story on the...


Trending Now


AROUND THE WEB

  1. 1
    Uganda 'gay' trial dismissed due to lack of evidence
  2. 2
    News 9: Train Slams Into Stalled Car In NW OKC
  3. 3
    KOCO: Oklahoma City cellphone users could pay more for 911 calls
  4. 4
    'La Bamba' Star Elizabeth Pena Died from Alcohol Abuse
  5. 5
    Texas’ Joe Wickline suing Oklahoma State
+ show more