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Oklahoma wildfires: Friday’s wildfires destroy at least 34 Oklahoma homes, injure 15

BY RANDY ELLIS Published: March 13, 2011

Central Oklahomans can count themselves lucky nobody was killed in Friday’s raging, wind-pushed wildfires that destroyed dozens of homes and left 15 people injured, emergency managers said Saturday after surveying the blackened remains of homes, barns and vehicles.

“After I walked in those neighborhoods and looked at the damage, it could have been much, much worse,” said Michelann Ooten, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. “However, if you are one of those looking at your home that has been reduced to rubble, it probably doesn’t feel that way.”

Fifteen people were injured and at least 34 homes were destroyed by Friday’s ferocious Central Oklahoma wildfires, emergency management officials reported.

Officials said the wildfires burned across more than 9,000 acres. No immediate estimate of the dollar loss was available.

The 15 injured people included six who had minor burns and nine who suffered from smoke inhalation — six of whom were firefighters, according to the Oklahoma Health Department and the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. The firefighters were treated at the scene in Harrah.

All the injuries appeared to be relatively minor, Ooten said.

The fires did their worst damage around Harrah and Choctaw in eastern Oklahoma County, where 30 homes were destroyed and seven others were damaged, Ooten said.

Other fire damage was reported west of Bethel Acres in western Pottawatomie County, where four homes were destroyed, and near Goldsby in McClain County, where 16 structures burned to the ground, officials said.

It initially was reported that six of the 16 structures that burned near Goldsby were homes, but Ooten said officials now believe all of those destroyed structures may have been used for storage.

At least 42 fires were reported statewide Friday. Oklahoma Forestry officials reported some of the largest fires were in Creek, Grady, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma, Okmulgee, Pottawatomie, Seminole and Tulsa counties. Ooten said Saturday that state emergency management officials hadn’t received reports from some of those areas yet, so the tally of homes destroyed Friday could rise.

Safe for now
For many, Friday’s wildfires brought flashbacks to a day two years ago when firestorms broke out in Eastern Oklahoma County, consuming 58 homes in Choctaw and 12 in Midwest City.

Firefighters braced for another round of raging wildfires Saturday, but received a reprieve when winds died down overnight and the humidity rose, diminishing the fire danger.

Cheryl Sharpe of the National Weather Service said the higher humidity levels and more gentle winds are expected to continue through the upcoming week, so she is not expecting a repeat of Friday’s wildfires soon.

“As long as vegetation stays brown there will still be some fire issues, but not like the raging fires of yesterday,” Sharpe said Saturday.

Ooten said that’s good news, but Oklahomans should remain vigilant.

“We don’t want people to get lulled into a false sense of security,” she said. “Things certainly are a little better today than they were yesterday and they may be a little better tomorrow than they are today, but we continue to be in a drought.”

That means conditions could worsen in a hurry at any time, perhaps even later this week, she said.

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