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Northeast Oklahoma City fire rages for second day

Firefighters couldn't stop a massive wildfire from reigniting Wednesday in northeast Oklahoma City
BY BRYAN DEAN, TIFFANY GIBSON and MATT DINGER Published: September 1, 2011

A massive wildfire that burned dozens of homes in northeast Oklahoma City reignited Wednesday and refused to die despite the best efforts of 300 firefighters aided by water-dropping helicopters.

Firefighters battled hot spots and flare-ups all day even as victims sorted through the ashes the fire left behind Tuesday and early Wednesday.

Oklahoma National Guard helicopters dumped large buckets of water in coordination with firefighters who tried to extinguish the remnants of the fire that started about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at NE 50 near Sooner Road and moved north as far as Britton Road before it was eventually contained in the evening.

Sustained winds of 22 mph with gusts up to 28 mph whipped the flames Wednesday and stymied firefighters at every turn. One flare-up got out of control about 4 p.m. and spread as far north as NE 122 between Sooner Road and Midwest Boulevard.

“This morning when we started, we had the fire fairly well contained. When the winds picked up this afternoon, we had a major flare-up on the north end of the fire and it starting advancing again to the north as it did yesterday,” Fire Chief Keith Bryant said.

“One of the biggest problems we have right now is the dense vegetation. We just have some real difficulties accessing the fire itself and we can't get our equipment ... close enough to put water on it and try to contain it,” Bryant said at sundown.

Oklahoma City Deputy Chief Kellie Sawyers said three to five structures burned in that flare-up, but she did not know whether the structures were homes, barns or unoccupied buildings.

“With these new outbreaks, both this one here in the northeast area, and the southeast area, we're probably going to add to number of structures destroyed,” Bryant said.

At least nine houses burned in Wednesday's flare-ups and across 3,000 acres, according to Oklahoma City Deputy Fire Chief Marc Woodard.

City officials completed a preliminary report on Tuesday's damage 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 barns and structures were destroyed. Officials said they did not know the extent of damage from Wednesday's fire.

Fire melted metal

Oklahoma City Fire Chief Keith Bryant said a 12-square-mile area was scorched Tuesday, with more land burned as the flames spread north.

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 dogs in the fire.

Turner sought refuge Wednesday at a shelter set up by the American Red Cross at Forest Park Community Center 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 from his vehicle.

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 even worse.

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