Oklahoma braces for 'historic' wildfire conditions - KTEN.com - Texoma news, weather and sports

Oklahoma braces for 'historic' wildfire conditions

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Firefighters from multiple agencies are scrambling to contain large wildfires in western Oklahoma. Firefighters from multiple agencies are scrambling to contain large wildfires in western Oklahoma.
Wildfires swept across western Oklahoma over the weekend. (Lacie Page Cole via NBC News) Wildfires swept across western Oklahoma over the weekend. (Lacie Page Cole via NBC News)

By KEN MILLER
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Forecasters warned of dangerous, life-threatening wildfire conditions in parts of the Southwest and Southern Plains on Tuesday as firefighters in rural Oklahoma battled blazes that have already killed at least two people and injured nine others.

U.S. Forest Service commander Deb Beard said the forecast should "scare the hell out" of the firefighters in Oklahoma, where fires have already killed at least two people and injured nine others.

Gusty winds and low humidity in drought-stricken areas will create dangerous fire conditions in parts of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, according to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. National Weather Service meteorologist Doug Speheger said such conditions haven't been seen in at least a decade.

Temperatures are projected to reach the mid-90s with humidity below 10 percent and winds gusting to 40 mph. The forecast includes northwestern Texas and the Texas Panhandle where firefighting aircraft are stationed in Amarillo, Abilene and surrounding areas.

"With these conditions, wildfires can spread rapidly, present control issues for firefighters and pose a real threat to public safety," said Texas A&M Forest Service Fire Chief Mark Stanford.

In Oklahoma, two people have died in the fires and nine others have been taken to hospitals for smoke inhalation or heat-related injuries, emergency management officials reported.

Oklahoma Forestry Services reported Tuesday that the largest of the Oklahoma fires has burned more than 388 square miles near Leedey, and was about 3 percent contained about 110 miles northwest of Oklahoma City.

Another fire has burned about 105 square miles near Woodward, about 20 miles north of the larger fire in Leedey, and is about 45 percent contained, according to the forestry service.

At the fire near Woodward, spokesman John Nichols said firefighters worked Monday to strengthen fire lines in preparation for the gusty weather Tuesday.

"The winds are coming, but wet weather is supposed to be coming too, and we're hoping the wet weather will arrive," Nichols said.

Firefighters from Carter, Johnston, Marshall, Pontotoc and Bryan counties traveled northwest to help out in hard-hit Dewey County and surrounding areas.

"It looked like it was a war zone," said Caleb Christian, assistant chief of the Stonewall Volunteer Fire Department. "I mean, black on both sides of the road for miles... I mean, all you could see was black."

"It's just part of the job; I mean, we go to help people whoever needs it," Christian said. "So when you sign on to be a volunteer firefighter, that's what we do."

These Texoma firefighters were risking their lives to help others.

"We pulled into a safe zone and decided we were going to evacuate some homes," recalled Chad Leteller of Pontotoc County Emergency Management. "Had an elderly man who refused to leave; we decided we were going to try and defend his ranch. Had some fire coming close and the aircraft operating."

More than 500 firefighters battled the inferno.

"It was really different than anything we see at home, for one, just the magnitude...  it was huge," Kingston Fire Department Chief James Kuykendall said. "This was the second year for this spot to burn, so we had a lot of dead fallen things from last fire that were causing some problems, and then the terrain is just so different from home. There's a lot of canyons and valleys and things that are just hard to access."

Firefighters said that's why these fires are so difficult to contain... and still just barely under control.

A number of groups around Texoma are organizing ways to collect donations for victims of the wildfires.

KTEN's McKenna Eubank in Ardmore contributed to this report

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