State investigators continue searching for clues as to how a massive wildfire in Logan County was sparked after initial reports about its origin were proven false.
In a news conference Monday, Guthrie Fire Chief Eric Harlow said the blaze started about 4 p.m. Sunday after a controlled burn from an unknown source spread out of control. But that theory was discredited about 11 a.m. Tuesday, when Stan May, spokesman for the state Homeland Security office’s Incident Management Team, spoke to a group of reporters at a wildfire command post.
“We have no evidence there was a controlled burn,” May said. “That was the information (Harlow) was given at first from the witnesses there ... it doesn’t seem to be a valid statement at this point.”
The wildfire investigation is being led by the state Agriculture Department and the state Fire Marshal’s office. Neither department has released details of their investigations.
The law enforcement arm of the Agriculture Department is required by statute to investigate wildfires, said Kirby Smith, a department spokeswoman. The state Fire Marshal’s office is involved because structures were burned, said Chief of Operations Sam Schafnitt.
“An investigation like this can take a couple of days,” Smith said. “As I would imagine with any investigation, that timeline can grow or decrease quickly.”
Teams from both departments have spent the past few days analyzing evidence on the ground and aerial maps to track burn patterns, Smith said.
On completion of the investigation, the person or party deemed responsible could face criminal charges.
“That’s obviously not something that would be handled out of our shop,” Smith said. “They will turn that over to the incident commander who will work with the appropriate district attorney’s office.”
Containment percentage rises
Area winds died down overnight Monday and into Tuesday, allowing firefighters to ramp up their efforts to extinguish the fire.
Established containment lines helped prevent fire from spreading, May said.
As of the most recent estimate Tuesday, the blaze was about 90 percent contained, as firefighters worked throughout the day to extinguish hot spots mostly on the northeast end, May said.
The fire burned an area east of Interstate 35 roughly from Forrest Hills Road north to Browne Avenue, Harlow said. That’s a span of about 51/2 miles.
Forty-two structures, including about 10 homes, were destroyed, but investigators continue to survey the roughly 3,500-acre burn area.
Officials had requested continued aerial water drops, but didn’t anticipate needing overhead assistance Tuesday, May said.
Firefighter injuries reported
While no evacuations were issued Tuesday, about 1,000 people have evacuated their homes since Sunday.
Emergency Medical Services Authority medics treated and released more than 150 firefighters for injuries caused by heat and smoke, May said.
One firefighter was hurt by shrapnel when firearm ammunition exploded inside a burning building. The firefighter was not shot, May said, but was treated by EMSA for bruising to the chest area and released.
The Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army were stationed at the command center to provide food and drinks for displaced residents and emergency crews.