Smoke rose over the horizon again Thursday afternoon in northeast Oklahoma City as firefighters continued battling flare-ups from a wildfire that has burned dozens of homes and about 4,000 acres over several days.
Oklahoma City Deputy Fire Chief Marc Woodard said the fire was mostly contained Thursday evening.
Woodard said the fire is in an 18-square-mile area, and 11 square miles of that area have been cleared.
“What that means is we feel confident we've gotten to all the hot spots in those 11 miles,” Woodard said.
Woodard said 457 firefighters from departments across the state assisted in fighting the blaze Wednesday. He said 317 helped Thursday.
Woodard said 25 homes and one church were destroyed Tuesday and Wednesday. No structures burned as of Thursday evening. There are three homes with major damage and another with minor damage. Numerous outbuildings have also been destroyed. Woodard said police are letting residents back into their homes as areas are being cleared of hot spots.
Oklahoma National Guard helicopters were called in to make airdrops after an afternoon flare-up in the 9800 block of Midwest Boulevard, but it was brought under control before it could spread the way the flames did on Wednesday.
Power remained offline Thursday in parts of northeast Oklahoma City.
Kathleen O'Shea, spokeswoman for Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co., said damage to the power company's system has been light considering the seriousness of the fire.
“We have about 1,100 customers without power, and we have either turned off power or we are not going in and restoring power right now because of the safety of the firefighters and our own crew.”
O'Shea said crews have completed some repairs and are waiting on the OK from firefighters to turn power back on.
“We're hoping by the end of (Thursday) we can get about 95 percent of the people back on, people who are able to take power,” she said. “Obviously, if their house has burned down or has significant damage we may not be able to do that. But the majority of the people, we should be able to get back on.”
Gov. Mary Fallin came to the wildfire command post at NE 63 and Sooner Road on Thursday and met with members of Harrison Bethel Baptist Church, who lost their building in the wildfire Wednesday.
The Rev. Johnny Moore said the governor brought words of encouragement for them to rebuild.
Church member Karen Bowen, 54, said the fire has given her more strength in her faith. She said it meant a lot to the members that Fallin came to show her support.
Moore said services will be held in a friend's gymnasium at 2701 E Hefner Road until the church can be rebuilt.
“We're currently fighting a lot of fires across the state,” Fallin said. “It's very, very hot, (with) extremely dangerous conditions. I hope all Oklahomans will be very, very careful. It's not going to let up heat-wise ... Hopefully, we'll get some relief on Sunday.”
Fallin said people shouldn't throw lit cigarettes out their car window and need to be cautious when pulling their cars over on the side of the road. She said even cars can set dry grass on fire.
State officials have applied for federal management assistance to help reimburse fire departments and municipalities for fire costs, Fallin said.
“I want to make it perfectly clear that there is no holding back, of using National Guard personnel (or) helicopters, based upon the financial cost,” she said. “We will do whatever we have to do. We're not going to hold back on protecting families, on protecting homes and putting out the fires based upon costs.”
Oklahoma City Fire Chief Keith Bryant said he does not know what caused the fire, which has burned land from NE 50 to NE 122 between Sooner Road and Douglass Boulevard since it started Tuesday afternoon.
Woodard said calmer winds Thursday helped firefighters' efforts.
“The winds really make a huge difference,” Woodard said.
Crews used bulldozers and equipment from the state forestry department to clear a path through thick brush, allowing firefighters to reach otherwise inaccessible areas where the fire continued to burn, Bryant said.
Fire Maj. Mike Jones said the heat is just one of the factors that has made fighting this fire so difficult.
“No two fires are ever the same. Whether it's the needed resources or the manpower, the elements, fuel load,” Jones said. “We'll be out here until it's completely concluded and the danger is over with.”