NOBLE, Okla. – The gusty, southerly winds that whipped wildfires throughÂ rural woodlands north and south of Oklahoma City started to die down earlyÂ Saturday, but not before burning dozens of homes.
Hundreds of people were told Friday to leave their homes in at least fourÂ counties, while smoke and flames prompted authorities to close parts ofÂ Interstate 44, the main roadway between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and two stateÂ highways. I-44 reopened late Friday night.
“A man refused to leave. From what I know, he wanted to protect his property,Â but your life has to be more valuable than property,” Oklahoma County SheriffÂ John Whetsel said late Friday night.
The sheriff said at least 25 homes, a daycare center and numerousÂ outbuildings had burned in a fire that may have been deliberately set nearÂ Luther, a town about 20 miles northeast of Oklahoma City.
Deputies were looking into reports about someone in a pickup truck who wasÂ seen throwing out newspapers that had been set on fire. By Friday night, theÂ blaze had spread across 80 square miles, but officials said it had calmed someÂ due to lighter winds and higher humidity.
About 40 structures were destroyed by a blaze near Tulsa. And yet anotherÂ blaze destroyed at least 25 structures, including a handful of homes, afterÂ starting near Noble, about 30 miles south of Oklahoma City, and moving towardÂ Norman, home to the University of Oklahoma.
Steve Palladino, operations chief for the Oklahoma Department of EmergencyÂ Management, said six Oklahoma National Guard helicopters will be dispatched toÂ the fires on Saturday. Palladino said three were sent out on Friday.
“I loaded the kids up, grabbed my dogs, and it didn’t even look like I hadÂ time to load the livestock, so I just got out of there,” said Bo Ireland, whoÂ lives a few miles from where the Noble-area fire started. “It looked to me that,Â if the wind shifted even a little bit, I would be in the path of that fire. ItÂ was just too close.”
There were no immediate reports of injuries or livestock losses.
Dayle Bishop said he may not have made it out of his home had a woman notÂ knocked on his door and woken him up. Standing in a convenience store parkingÂ lot about 2 miles away from his home, he was pessimistic about its chances.
With the ongoing drought, high temperatures and gusty winds, it took littleÂ for fires to begin and spread – and there was little crews could do to fightÂ them.
“It’s difficult for the firefighters to get into the area because it’sÂ heavily wooded on either side of the smaller roads. When the winds are blowingÂ 25 mph it just blows the embers and fireballs across the roads as if theyÂ weren’t even there,” said Jerry Lojka with the Oklahoma Department of EmergencyÂ Management.
At mid-afternoon Friday, the temperature in Norman hit 113 degrees, andÂ winds were gusting at 24 mph. “I can tell you the temperatures and the wind areÂ not helping the situation at all,” said Meghan McCormick, a spokeswoman for theÂ Cleveland County Sheriff’s office.
Russell Moore, 53, who lives in the Noble area, said he was outside in hisÂ yard when a sheriff’s deputy drove down the road and told people to leave. HeÂ and his son went to a shelter set up at Noble City Hall.
“About all we saw was smoke and a little bit of ash raining down from theÂ sky,” Moore said. “Everybody was piling into their vehicles and leaving as weÂ were.”
The state was monitoring 11 fires by Friday afternoon. Gov. Mary FallinÂ announced a statewide burn ban as the fire danger heightened. She previously hadÂ announced a state of emergency for all 77 counties due to the extremeÂ drought.
Source: NY Daily News