A massive wildfire in northeast Oklahoma City refused to die Wednesday and continued to threaten homes more than a day after it started.
About 250 firefighters battled hot spots and flare-ups Wednesday afternoon even as victims sorted through the ashes the fire left behind Tuesday and early Wednesday.
Oklahoma City Deputy Chief Kellie Sawyers said three to five structures were on fire about 4 p.m. in a large flare-up north of Hefner Road between Sooner Road and Midwest Boulevard. Sawyers said she wasn't sure whether the structures were homes, barns or unoccupied buildings.
Winds of up to 25 mph hampered efforts to get the fire under control, fire officials said.
City officials completed a preliminary damage report Wednesday afternoon and found the fire had destroyed 17 houses, five mobile homes and one church, Harrison Bethel Baptist Church at 6300 NE 71.
Three houses suffered major damage, one had minor damage and eight more had slight damage. Many other barns and structures were destroyed. The damage report did not include structures that might have been damaged in Wednesday afternoon's flare-ups.
Oklahoma City Fire Chief Keith Bryant said a 12-square-mile area was scorched as the fire spread north between Sooner Road and Midwest Boulevard from NE 50 to Britton Road on Tuesday afternoon and evening.
Joe Turner, 54, said he lost three mobile homes at his property at 6000 NE 63. Turner lived in one of the homes, his sister lived in another and the third was for storage. He also lost several vehicles and pet dogs in the fire.
Turner sought refuge Wednesday at a shelter set up by the American Red Cross at Forest Park Town Hall after viewing the damage on his 20-acre property.
“It's torched. I've been there 35 years, and I didn't even recognize it,” Turner said. “I don't know what I'm going to do. I just came from there looking for something salvageable, but there ain't nothing.”
Turner marveled at the heat generated by the fire, which melted metal girders beneath his mobile home and melted an engine out of one of his vehicles.
Midwest City Fire Chief Randy Olsen, whose crews were helping battle the blaze, credited Oklahoma City for a quick response that kept the fire from becoming a larger catastrophe.
Olsen said firefighters were totally exhausted during Tuesday's efforts, but most were back fighting the blaze again Wednesday.
“These guys are well-trained and physically fit,” Olsen said.
Barricades remained in place in much of the area ravaged by the fire, and authorities encouraged people to stay out of the area.
On Wednesday morning, firefighters worked to defend homes and property along Britton Road near Prosper Drive as crews from Edmond, Midwest City, Del City, Jones and Canadian County arrived as reinforcement. About 200 firefighters were on the scene Wednesday, Bryant said.
Oklahoma Air National Guard helicopters dropped water on hot spots unreachable by fire vehicles.
“It was definitely more intense yesterday,” Bryant said. “Today we're in more of a mop-up phase. We're still actively working the area, so it's going to be some time.”
Numerous people evacuated Tuesday were still waiting to get back to their homes Wednesday. Cedar trees continued to explode in flames, and downed power lines created hazards throughout the area.
About 1,300 Oklahoma City customers were without power Wednesday afternoon.
George Caldwell, 58, said he's been monitoring the fire since it burned several homes near his.
He said he was in Guthrie when he got a call about the wildfire. Worried about his dog, Buddy, Caldwell said he rushed home to take the dog to safety.
As firefighters worked to put out hot spots on NE 66 near Harrison, Caldwell sat outside his home Wednesday and watched them work.
“All these guys are working constantly with each other,” he said. “They saved me.”
Kevan Finley, CEO of Cedar Ridge Hospital, said about 80 patients and 180 staff members had to leave about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. He said the patients were taken to different hospitals in the area and haven't been brought back to the facility.
Finley said he's working with the Oklahoma City Fire Department to determine when it will be safe to take them back to the hospital at 6501 NE 50.
“They won't let us back in here if they think we'll have to evacuate,” he said.
No injuries were reported Wednesday, but three firefighters were treated Tuesday. A firefighter from Byers and another from Oklahoma City were treated for heat exhaustion, and a Midwest City firefighter was treated for smoke inhalation.
CONTRIBUTING: Staff writer Robert Medley.