A cold front moving through the state on Saturday caused the wildfires in Creek County to nearly double in size, but the milder weather allowed firefighters to gain control of other blazes across the state.
The fire in Creek County had burned across 32,140 acres by Saturday afternoon, Oklahoma Forestry Services spokeswoman Michelle Finch-Walker said. After winds shifted, the total was raised to 58,230 acres, she said.
“What was the flank of the fire, that flank became the front. When that happens, it chews up some countryside really quickly,” Finch-Walker said.
By Sunday evening, containment still wasn't a word passing the lips of fire officials.
“This is now a marathon, not a sprint,” Oklahoma State Forrester George Geissler said Sunday morning. “The fires are not going to be contained or under control for several days still,” he said.
Officials said more assets were brought in Sunday to fight the fires, including helicopters and tanker planes, although Oklahoma is competing for only nine large tankers in the country.
Dozens of structures have been destroyed in Creek County, but it's unclear how many buildings or homes have been lost, Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Keli Cain said Sunday morning. Earlier, the department reported that about 40 structures had burned.
Evacuations of Mannford and Drumright in Pawnee and Payne counties were lifted early Sunday.
Temperatures across the state stayed mostly below triple digits on Sunday, but are expected to cross the century mark again Monday and Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.
Wildfire predictions for the state are above normal for the month of August, Finch-Walker said.
“We're in this for the month. It's going to take some significant changes to the weather and this drought before this changes,” she said.
A wildfire that burned 9,600 acres near Ninnekah was down to hot spots by Sunday evening, Cain said. A fire near Geary was 95 percent contained late Saturday, Finch-Walker said. Fire crews continue to monitor those sites.
Wildfires were reported near Morris in Okmulgee County about 7 p.m. Sunday. No structures were threatened by the fire, but the flames were moving fast, Finch-Walker said. Additional information about the Okmulgee fires was not immediately available. Another 13 woodland fires were reported in the southeastern part of the state, most of them in McCurtain County. No structures were threatened.
About 7,900 acres burned and 100 structures are thought to be have been lost in wildfires in the Noble, Norman and Slaughterville areas, but it has not been determined how many were homes and how many were abandoned structures, Norman Fire Chief James Fullingim said.
“The fire burned through here so violently and so hot that the structures were pretty much incinerated,” he said.
The blaze had been contained and State Highway 9 was reopened Sunday evening. No significant injuries had been reported.
“If things continue the way they are right now, and the weather forecast holds true, I think by this time (Monday) we can say that the fire is out,” Fullingim said.
The Luther fire was brought under control late Saturday, and was contained by Sunday evening, Oklahoma County Emergency Manager David Barnes said. Power and water service have also been restored to the town and surrounding areas, he said.
“The wind shift that came through during the night caused a few issues, but they were handled. We knew it was coming and we had plans in place,” Barnes said.
Nine homes and five mobile homes in Luther and another four or five homes south of town were burned, as well as about 25 other structures. The number of acres burned was not available Sunday, but the fire cut a path six miles long and a mile and a half wide, Barnes said.
Only minor injuries to firefighter were reported.
“There were some structures damaged and lost. There were homes damaged,” said Pawnee County Emergency Management Director Mark Randell.
Evacuations were near the Hallett, Jennings and Mannford areas. No injuries were reported, Randell said. There weren't reports available on the number of homes or structures that were damaged.
The county received some rain overnight, but “I don't think it was enough to put the fire completely out,” Randell said. “Everybody is exhausted but we ask people to continue to pray and help the families and help the (firefighters) that are dealing with the fire on a daily basis.”
The fires were under control early Sunday and no homes had been lost, said Sheriff Joel Kerns.
Kerns said some structures in the county burned, but he said no official reports were available. Kerns said some homes were evacuated Saturday as fires approached but they were saved with the help of road graders that were nearby.
“The county had some road graders and some local owners had some bulldozers and that was how we were able to manage,” Kerns said.
It's unknown how many acres burned, but “we had a lot,” Kerns said.
“We had all 27 fire departments in the county that were fighting the blaze, along with departments from Haskell County,” Kerns said.
CONTRIBUTING: Tulsa World