Wildfires that swept across parts of central Oklahoma on Friday destroyed numerous homes and structures and forced hundreds to evacuate, authorities said.
Firefighters battled the wind-swept blazes in Oklahoma and Cleveland counties late into Friday night and into Saturday morning.
In Luther, Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel said about 25 homes and a day care center were destroyed by the fire.
The town also lost power. Sheriff's office officials said they suspect arson in the Luther fire, and that witnesses reported seeing a person driving a 2008 black Ford F-150 pickup with red lettering on the side throw a burning newspaper out of the vehicle.
The sheriff's office asks anyone with information about this person to call 869-2501. The sheriff's office has three investigators on the case, and the office plans to present its findings to the district attorney's office for prosecution, Whetsel said.
One injury was reported in the Luther wildfire, he said. The sheriff's office will continue to help in Luther “as long as they need it,” Whetsel said.
In Cleveland County, several homes were destroyed by the fire near Norman, Slaughterville and Noble, Norman Fire Deputy Chief Jim Bailey said Friday afternoon.
“The conditions are absolutely horrible for firefighting,” Bailey said. “We have got low humidity, we got winds up to 25 mph, so it is just really difficult.”
As of Friday evening, no serious injuries were reported in Cleveland County, although a volunteer firefighter became overheated, Bailey said.
The American Red Cross reported that 17 families had lost their homes in the wildfires in Cleveland County, said Kayla Costner, American Red Cross regional communications coordinator.
Tracy Montgomery, an evacuee at the Red Cross evacuation center in Noble, seemed sure her new home was destroyed by the blaze.
“It was a mobile home on five acres; it's located right about where they said the fire started,” Montgomery said. “We didn't have any insurance.”
All Montgomery did have was her old Ford Mustang and a rubber container full of family keepsakes. She was waiting for the rest of her family in the parking lot of the small city hall.
“I have no idea what happened to our house,” Montgomery said. “I guess you can kinda imagine.”
Because of the severity of the fires, officials asked people to not return to their homes.
The Red Cross set up overnight shelters at Harmony Christian Church, 7100 S Choctaw, and Slaughterville Baptist Church, 10101 60th St. in Lexington.
“A lot of people are waiting at gas stations or on the side of the roads, thinking they are able to go home, but that's just not going to happen tonight,” Costner said Friday night.
Gov. Mary Fallin said state resources such as helicopters and bulldozers were used Friday to help local fire departments fight five major fires that burned across the state and the state is ready to offer assistance again Saturday, which could pose even a greater fire danger.
“We have every available resource that we can find being used right now,” Fallin said Friday night. “The challenge is we can use even more.”
The state monitored 11 fires Friday afternoon as Fallin announced a statewide burn ban.
Friday began with more than 150 firefighters from 42 agencies combating an overnight wildfire near Geary in Blaine County that forced people in several homes to evacuate.
The 2,000-acre fire was contained but picked up again from the high winds in the afternoon. American Red Cross regional director of communications Ken Garcia said two homes were destroyed in the fire.
Fallin said she has requested help from surrounding states, but most are facing high fire dangers, as well. With temperatures to remain in the triple digits throughout most of the weekend, Fallin said the state is anticipating another day of wildfires.
Fallin urged residents to follow the instructions of firefighters and law enforcement officials.
“When someone tells you there is fire danger in your local community, listen, heed the warnings,” she said.
Contributing: Staff Writers Michael McNutt and Andrew Knittle