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Summer 2012 included wildfires and stretches of record extreme heat

A repeat of drought compounded the issues, said Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management Director Albert Ashwood.
by Bryan Painter Published: August 31, 2012

The summer of 2012 will be remembered as very hot at times and, for most, very dry all the time.

Albert Ashwood, Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management director, reflected on the last three months as “a very, very dangerous summer for all of us.”

For record-keeping purposes, weather officials, such as climatologists and National Weather Service meteorologists, consider summer to be the start of June to the end of August.

As for dryness, summer ends Friday with Oklahoma experiencing severe to exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

And as for hotness, some areas had multiple consecutive days above 110 degrees, such as Kingfisher where, in the first three days of August, the temperature was 115 degrees followed by two days of 114.

On Aug. 3, the temperature never dipped below 84 degrees in Oklahoma City, establishing the warmest low for the city since record-keeping began in 1891.

Also Aug. 3, an afternoon reading of 113 degrees at Will Rogers World Airport matched Aug. 11, 1936, for the hottest official temperature ever recorded in Oklahoma City.

In ways, summer 2012 mirrored the same period of 2011.

“It was a lot like last summer at times,” Ashwood said. “The difference is the drought after a drought. That was the real problem. It just compounded the issues that we had this summer with the wildfires, with the high winds, high temperatures and very low humidity.”

Wildfires were numerous, and occurred in dozens of counties, many with multiple fires. The Oklahoma Medical Examiner's office reported one fatality related to the wildfires, occurring in Cleveland County.

From July 28 through Wednesday, Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management counted 678 homes damaged in wildfires in Creek, Cleveland, Oklahoma and Payne counties alone.

Of those, 603 were destroyed.

Fire departments throughout the state worked long hours fighting wildfires, not only in their areas but also as they provided regional assistance to others.

In terms of acreage, the Freedom Hills fire this month across 58,500 acres in Creek County was Oklahoma's largest wildfire in the last 10 years, according to Oklahoma Forestry Services.

Numerous challenges were faced when fighting these fires, said Michelle Finch-Walker, spokeswoman for Oklahoma Forestry Services.

One challenge was erratic fire behavior due to extreme weather conditions and critically dry wildland fuels, she said.

“The biggest success is relatively unnoticed,” she said, “that being successful initial attack on wildfires even with the weather and drought conditions that we have faced in Oklahoma over the last few months.”

By the numbers

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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