Skip to main content
U.S. Edition
Worst U.S. fires | Fighting flames | Quiz | Special Report

Wildfires destroy Oklahoma City homes

Texans evacuated as winds, dry conditions fan flames




(CNN) -- Oklahoma City firefighters contained a grassland wildfire that destroyed several houses in a neighborhood on the city's northeast side late Sunday, a spokesman said.

But dry, windy conditions aggravating a spate of fires were forecast to continue throughout the week.

Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry said he has asked President Bush to declare an emergency in the state and commit federal resources to battling the fires, which have scorched tens of thousands of acres statewide since Tuesday.

Firefighters also struggled to contain similar fires across the prairies of north-central Texas -- including one blaze west of Dallas that stretched for 35 miles, officials said.

Authorities have blamed three deaths in Texas and one in Oklahoma on the fires.

Residents of a largely rural district about 10 miles northeast of downtown Oklahoma City were forced to flee their homes Sunday night as strong westerly winds fueled the latest fire.

Firefighters declared the blaze contained about 8 p.m. (9 p.m. ET), said Maj. Brian Stanaland, a Fire Department spokesman.

"It's just a disaster out here," Stanaland said. "We're doing the very best we can with what we've got, trying to keep these fires contained."

Hundreds of firefighters were mobilized to contain the fire and evacuate nearby residents, he said.

In a news conference Sunday night, Henry called conditions a "perfect storm" for fires and vowed to provide "every form of assistance available" for firefighters, many of whom are volunteers.

Henry said most fires were being caused by "human carelessness," and he urged Oklahomans to use extreme caution in handling any kind of flame or combustible materials while conditions remain tinder-dry.

"I want to stress that even though our firefighters and first responders have done a fabulous job fighting these fires, that the danger is not over," he said. "Weather conditions are not favorable over the foreseeable future. There is no significant precipitation in sight, and we cannot and will not let our guard down."

Wildfires have burned in 24 Oklahoma counties since Tuesday, and have claimed 250,000 acres of prairie and 200 homes since November, Oklahoma's emergency management agency reported.

Residents face "extreme fire weather conditions" again Monday, with the potential for fires to spread rapidly.

Central Oklahoma has had only a quarter-inch of rain since the end of October. High temperatures in recent days have ranged around 80 degrees, and strong, gusty winds have hampered firefighters' efforts, state Fire Marshal Robert Doke said.

"We are extremely busy -- more so than we expected for this time of the year," Doke told CNN.

Firefighters from North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee and Florida have been dispatched to help, but high winds have grounded the helicopters and tanker planes used to fight the fires, Doke said.

"The bulldozers do great, but by the time we get them dispatched to one area and get them working, we've got other fires," he said.

The smoke and soot stirred up by the fires have left terrain reminiscent of what was left by dust storms in Depression-era Oklahoma, Doke told CNN.

"You would think it was dusk out there when it should be extremely light, because of the smoke and dust," he said.

In Texas, fire crews were battling a 35-mile-long fire cutting across Eastland County, about 130 miles west of Dallas. The fire was up to three miles wide in sections, said Mark Pipkin, a spokesman for the Eastland Fire Department.

Pipkin said 150 firefighters from 30 departments were trying to bring the wildfire under control. "It's a pretty big fire," he said.

Pipkin did not have an official tally of people who had been evacuated, but said residents were cleared from communities in and around the towns of Eastland, Carbon, Kokomo and Gorman.

To the south, in Sterling County, firefighters battled an 1,800-acre blaze along a five-mile front, the state Forestry Department said.

Residents of about 200 homes were forced to evacuate ahead of a fire near Carbon, said Sparky Dean, an Eastland County government spokesman.

County officials were receiving state help to fight the fires, "and now we're working on federal resources," he said.

Dean said the total burned acreage statewide could exceed 300,000 by Monday.

Winds gusting up to 60 mph fanned a wall of flames outside Lubbock, forcing nearby residents to evacuate homes and livestock before the blaze was brought under control.

The nearly 40-acre blaze destroyed at least two barns and left a volunteer firefighter hospitalized for smoke inhalation before it was brought under control, said Lt. Mark Ethridge, a Lubbock Fire Department spokesman.

"This one really is not classified as a big one, if you want to compare it to some of the other ones that are burning across the state," Ethridge said.

CNN's Ed Lavandera contributed to this report.

Story Tools
Click Here to try 4 Free Trial Issues of Time! cover
Top Stories
Get up-to-the minute news from CNN gives you the latest stories and video from the around the world, with in-depth coverage of U.S. news, politics, entertainment, health, crime, tech and more.
Top Stories
Get up-to-the minute news from CNN gives you the latest stories and video from the around the world, with in-depth coverage of U.S. news, politics, entertainment, health, crime, tech and more.
CNN TV E-mail Services CNN Mobile CNNAvantGo Ad Info About Us Preferences
© 2007 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines