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Oklahoma City Neighborhoods Burning; Evacuation Orders In Effect

Aired January 1, 2006 - 19:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, I'm Carol Lin at the CNN Center and what you're seeing right now on your screen is parts of Oklahoma City on fire right now. These grassfires are beginning to spread into the urban areas. I'm told at least a dozen wildfires inside of Oklahoma City are burning right now.

Mason Dunn, he is a pilot for our CNN affiliate KWTW, I believe, is on the telephone with me right now. Mason, what are you seeing from the air?

MASON DUNN, KWTV PILOT (on phone): (INAUDIBLE). We have a fire here just about three miles from the station where I'm based out of, which is KWTV Oklahoma City and we've been covering fires all day, Carol. We've been up towards - we went to Guthrie, we went to Cimarron City and now we're here right in the metro where we have a large grassfire that's already taken three structures. As you can see, one of the houses, that's a big two story house now engulfed in flames right now, Carol.

LIN: Mason, it just looks like it's spotted, there's a grass fire in one neighborhood, then another house on fire in a different neighborhood. Why is it so checkerboard?

DUNN: Well, this fire has spread very quickly. We had a wind shift come through and that did not help matters at all. Firefighters on the other fires were preparing theirself for the winds coming out of the southeast and we had a cold front or something come through, a wind shift, now the winds are directly out of the west and these fires have just taken off and firefighters are not able to get a handle on it right now.

LIN: How many homes do you think are on fire right now?

DUNN: Just on this one fire (INAUDIBLE) which is around 63rd and Cinder Road (ph) right here in Oklahoma City. There has been three structures burnt to the ground already because you were looking at one just a minute ago, that was a large two story house and two other homes that are - one's already burnt to the ground and another that's threatened right now, Carol.

LIN: A short time ago I spoke with the Oklahoma fire marshal, Robert Doke (ph) and he was saying at that time about 10 fires burning in Oklahoma City. He says he believes these may have been started by cigarette butts, people carelessly throwing cigarettes out of their car windows.

DUNN: That could be, Carol, because two of the fires that we went on were started right at a road. A paved road that somebody probably could have been driving down and threw their cigarette out. We've got 40 mile an hour winds right now. They were trying to call the Chinook helicopters in to come help try to put this fire out right in the metro. The helicopters are not flying because it's dark or too windy or both so right now Oklahoma City Fire Department has a lot on their hands trying to get this fire out, just attacking it on the ground, Carol.

LIN: It's dark so we can't really tell. You and I over the last several days have been talking about rural fires out in farm country but we are looking at a city neighborhood?

DUNN: You're looking at a really nice neighborhood. These are pretty good-sized homes with big lots, so the homes are not really close together like the fire we had in Guthrie. The fire in Guthrie I was on earlier. We had about five structures that were taken in that fire and this one just started soon after that as we were coming back from Guthrie.

We're about 50 miles from Guthrie and I can still see the fire in Guthrie burning at this hour.

LIN: Mason, I'm looking at a huge home now on fire. The flames are coming right out of the roofline of the second story.

DUNN: Yeah that house is pointed to the west, OK? So it's the east side that's on the fire, the winds are about 35 to 40 out of the west to the east right now so you can see it was actually the east side of that house that caught on fire. That is a very large two- story home. Somebody is losing their home here on the first day of 2006.

LIN: I also just a report, too, that highways in the area are now closed. What are you hearing?

DUNN: Well, the highway, I-35 was closed earlier on the Guthrie fire. It is now reopened. They've got the Guthrie fire under control. There is a large fire out in Cimarron City that we were covering whenever the wind shift comes through and once the wind shift comes through that fire just took off. They do not have that one under control at this time.

But right now traffic in the city of Oklahoma City except for this intersection around northeast 63rd and Sooner, around Coltrane and 50th, those areas are the only roads that's closed right now, Carol.

LIN: Some 250,000 acres will have burned when all is said and done, that's according to a state estimate and some of the cities that I'm reading about here, Mason, on the wire, Cimarron City, you mentioned, Stigler, Wainwright, OK Slick (ph), Shamrock, Welty (ph) and Cashon (ph). Give our audience some appreciation of how big an area that is? DUNN: Well, these are like fires you'd see out in California except we had them here in Oklahoma. We don't have the hills that you have in California, but once these fires keep going, Carol, it is amazing, it's like a firestorm, if the wind blows, this fire will travel about a mile - about a quarter mile to half a mile wide, it will travel a mile in about 10 minutes. So if you have a house, we watched a house yesterday just get fully engulfed with some tall grass that was around it and it was just amazing how quick these fires spread.

We have had about 20 to 30,000 acres, is that what you said ...

LIN: No, the fire marshal is estimating that it is going to be something like 250,000 acres, a quarter of a million acres burned in Oklahoma.

DUNN: Yeah, we were out on the Shamrock fire earlier and we were just watching cattle and horses and all of that. Farmers are out there trying to get their cattle and horses rounded up and out of the pens because they're penned up and they get trapped in there so luckily we've only lost - unfortunately we've had one death with all these fires and I'm not sure on the animal count right now, Carol.

LIN: Mason, maybe you can explain this. One of our screens that the audience is seeing is a line of fire or a wall of fire. The line just sort of runs jaggedly across what appears to be a hillside. Is that the fire line where the firefighters are trying to stop it?

DUNN: That is close to where the fire started, Carol. That is on the West Side as my photographer David Young is going to pan back to where the fire is, that's the house that's on fire and you can see how quickly this fire has moved. That's about a mile stretch and this fire moved very quickly. They did have to evacuate a - sejition (ph) over here, by the way, too, Carol.

LIN: Yeah it looks like a snake of flames moving through that neighborhood and you're saying this is a pretty wealthy neighborhood?

DUNN: Well, you know, Carol, out here you got a little bit of both. You'll have a wealthy - a nice house next to a nice trailer house so who knows? I would say yes, it's a very nice neighborhood around here and of course you're right in the metro. This is right inside the Oklahoma City limits.

LIN: Right. So how far is this from, say, a downtown area?

DUNN: Downtown is off to my left and it's about 10 miles right now. I can see a beautiful shot of downtown Oklahoma City right now and I might add that whenever the wind pick up today you can not see a half a mile when we were flying back from Shamrock to Oklahoma City. You couldn't see a half a mile with all the blowing dust.

So this is my second photographer that I've had today. My first one got sick so I had to drop him off and pick up another, Carol.

LIN: So is it fair to say that this fire may be threatening Downtown Oklahoma City?

DUNN: No, it is not approaching Downtown Oklahoma City. It is actually going the other way. It's going away from Oklahoma City right now and they're trying to head this fire off at the next paved road that we have, which is Sooner Road. They're doing a good job of that right now. There's so much smoke I can't - usually I have a frequency I talk to the fire department so if I see anything dangerous I can actually talk to the fire department directly and lead them into the fire sometimes or tell them that the fire has jumped about a half a mile.

LIN: So what is it heading toward then?

DUNN: I really couldn't tell you, Carol. It's really dark down here but I see all the fire trucks are on Sooner Road so hopefully they have it dropped off at Sooner Road, but across from that was an addition that they have already evacuated. Oklahoma City Fire Department wastes no time in evacuating homes around here.

They will drive right to the homes anywhere within a half a mile of this fire and start evacuating homes and that's the right thing to do and they'll start fighting the fire up in the front with all the wind gusts.

LIN: Anybody has got to be crazy to stay in their house right now if they're anywhere near that neighborhood. This fire has been moving so quickly, all for the last five days and it's fair to say that it's just way too dangerous to try to hold on to their property. I know a lot of people have a hard time letting go not knowing what they're going to return to.

I'm from California and I've covered so many wildfires and so many mudslides and people even in the evacuation zones, they just say that they don't want to sit somewhere else and worry about it, they want to be here fighting the flames and then they get overcome.

DUNN: That's right. I saw a lot of people out with water hoses watering down the top of their roofs, which is a good idea but Brian Stanaland, the major -- fire official around here, he's a major, he talks about keeping the grass around your house mowed pretty low and that's a good idea. I saw a great example of that yesterday when we were watching the fire approach this house and the fire went 50 yards in about 20 seconds, Carol, so it was just some amazing video that we were showing and it just reminded me of a firestorm, Carol.

LIN: Mm-hmm. That's sure what it looks like right now in that urban neighborhood near Downtown Oklahoma City. Mason, how long have you lived there? Is this home for you?

DUNN: I was born and raised here, Carol. I've lived here all my life. I am very lucky to fly for a local TV station. It's like getting drafted by the home team. So we've got a very good TV station here, KWTV Oklahoma City. I'm very proud to work for them, been born and raised here like I said and just glad to be here.

LIN: What is it like for you to look down on these neighborhoods and cover this story and even know some of the people who may be evacuated or losing their homes?

DUNN: Well, on one sense I feel helpless but on the other sense I feel like maybe I'm doing something or helping somebody. It's like a catch-22. I have a job to do and we get it done and sometimes I do feel very helpless out here watching these homes go up in flames but we do our fair share of landing and picking up fire chiefs and taking them around to try to head off the fire.

We've done that numerous times out here so I get a little - I'm glad I'm able to do that and maybe help in some way with the helicopter, Carol.

LIN: Yeah. So many heartbreaking stories on the ground, even just amongst these firefighters who have been battling these flames 15, 20 hours a day, walking on hot coals and getting blisters.

DUNN: I'm sorry, Carol, could you repeat that?

LIN: I'm just saying that these firefighters are working their bottoms off, walking on hot coals, or the equivalent of hot coals for 15, 20 hours. They ...

DUNN: You're talking about the firefighters right now?

LIN: Yes I am.

DUNN: I'm losing my coverage a little bit. I'm trying to pick you up but you've got to remember, Oklahoma City, every fire station around here has been fighting fires for the last week and they are very tired, running out of resources. Firemen and women. I've seen - landed the other day and there were several women out there fighting these fires. So you've got to give it to these firefighters around here. It's been a terrible last week and a half, Carol.

LIN: It sure has. Mason, we've been really glad to have you onboard. We want to stay with you throughout this. You're getting a bird's eye view of the fires burning in an Oklahoma City neighborhood not far from Downtown Oklahoma. So, Mason, stay right there.

I've got with me on the telephone right now Albert Ashwood. He is with the Department of Emergency Management for Oklahoma.

Mr. Ashwood, can you give us the big picture situation, because it sure looks pretty bad from our vantage point right here.

ALBERT ASHWOOD, OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Well, obviously it's terrible. I'm looking at the pictures that Mason is giving you right here on CNN as well as the 12 other active fires we have across the state of Oklahoma right now. It's not just the Oklahoma City area. Luckily in Oklahoma City we do have a large fire department and they do an outstanding job.

Across the state we also have about 900 volunteer fire departments that are fighting these things and have been fighting them for the last week.

LIN: Do you have enough fire manpower, firefighter power behind these fires to at least try to contain them?

ASHWOOD: I don't think you ever have enough manpower, especially with the conditions we currently - we've requested resources from other states through our forestry division of the Department of Agriculture. I know we have U.S. Forest Service compacts that are being utilized with fire teams from Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina. They have all come over. We are probably going to get some more to pre-position them, to help out with these fires and as well as equipment.

But it's just extreme conditions here in the state and it's going to be a while before it gets any better.

LIN: So what are you predicting for tonight? I mean, at least the temperatures must be dropping in the night time but you've got a dozen fires burning.

ASHWOOD: Well, we do have a drop in the temperatures, that's a good thing, and humidities will go up. Unfortunately, the winds have shifted. Now they're directly out of the west and we have a new front that's coming through here. It's almost 7:00 at night and we're still having 30 to 35 mile per hour gusts and that's extremely unusual for this state. When the winds get down, hopefully there can be some containment but then again, we'll fight them again first thing tomorrow.

LIN: So who's in the path of this fire that we're watching right now?

ASHWOOD: Well, there are numerous homes in that area but Oklahoma City, like most of Oklahoma is spread out to where you have housing additions and then open area, a lot of ranches, a lot of farms so it's sporadic going from house. This is an area that is very close to the state capitol, frankly, it's only a few miles from here. And we're watching it just the same way you are.

LIN: So what are the dangers or the chances that this fire is going to - the winds are going to shift and this fire is going to start blowing towards the downtown?

ASHWOOD: Well, I think the main thing that we have the Oklahoma City Fire Department out there and they do an outstanding job and we've had a fire in close to this same area a few days ago and they did an outstanding job putting it out.

Unfortunately, after dark here we do not have the aerial fire suppression that we had earlier in the week with the Chinook helicopters and the Black Hawks with the buckets. It's just too dangerous to fly after dark and especially in these high winds.

LIN: Mr. Ashwood, I want to keep you on the telephone line. I just want to update our viewers in case they are just joining us. You are looking at live pictures of grassfires burning inside the Oklahoma City city limits. This is a neighborhood of very large family homes about 10 miles from Downtown Oklahoma City and I have with me on the telephone Albert Ashwood. He is with the Department of Emergency Management for the State of Oklahoma.

All right, sir. Mr. Ashwood, if we could hold you as long as we can, I want to go to our affiliate KOCO and listen in to the coverage there on the ground.

ROB HEDRICK, KOCO-TV CORRESPONDENT: Just right in that area so if there was a house fire there this is probably just the ongoing cycle of the house fire that is in that area.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, Rob, it seems as though if that were indeed a house fire, there are so many crews on the scene of this, they would be on the scene pretty quickly.

HEDRICK: Well, there are a lot of crews around this area and I would guess - I've seen crews headed that way. I don't know if they're just going up and down 50th but I would guess they are back in that area. I don't know what kind of terrain is back in there. This area of Oklahoma County is a bit hilly and it's a little bit hard for these guys to work their way back in there but they are great at what they do and they are great at getting back into areas where the fire is.

It is starting to flare up a little more there, getting a little more orange, you're seeing a couple plumes there, that right there that you just saw the burst of sparks, if you will, that is also something that happens when a pine tree or a cedar tree goes up, so it may just be a clump of trees that's on fire back in that area.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can only hope so, Rob, and that's an excellent point. One of the best views so far we've had of this fire is from our towercam (ph) far up in the air and it is windy up there but it has been showing hot spots glowing on occasion for the last hour and a half or so.

As we look off to the due east area, we and our towercam are both at Britain Road (ph) near Kelly (ph) so this is looking straight east. The trouble area around ...

LIN: You're listening to our affiliate coverage, KOCO as they had a reporter right in one of those neighborhoods in that Oklahoma City neighborhood where they were watching as the fire was moving in on a residential home.

Once again, on the telephone with me right now is Albert Ashwood. He is with the Department of Emergency Management in Oklahoma. Mr. Ashwood, we were just listening in to this report and frankly, it's remarkable that the reporters could get that close but also, KOCO reporting that so far no injuries or deaths in these most recent fires. Is that true?

ASHWOOD: Well, that's amazing. We have had two deaths since basically the first about a month ago when we started having fires but in this recent outbreak we have not had any that we're aware of. Of course, there's going to be a lot of heat exhaustion. There's going to be some firefighters that are going to have some trouble and we'll work with that but frankly all we need right now is we need some precipitation, we need something to change in the weather because we are a bit at the mercy of the weather right now.

LIN: All right. Mr. Ashwood, listen in because I've got Monica McNeal, our meteorologist at the CNN weather center. Monica, these people are desperate for any kind of humidity or moisture. What's in the forecast?

MONICA MCNEAL, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It doesn't look good, Carol, right now. It doesn't look like we're going to see any moisture in the near future. As of right now, just about the entire region is still under this fire danger and with these very, very low humidities and this wind it's still a problem.

I want to read some of the latest relative humidity and wind speeds for you. Out of Stillwater, their winds are out of the south at about 20 miles per hour, they're gusting at 31. Right there in Oklahoma City the winds are 22 and gusting at 36 and the relative humidity is about 30 percent, so that's a little bit higher than some of these other areas like in Texas, Abilene, Texas, their relative humidity is 17 percent, Wichita Falls, 17 percent, so this just gives you an indication of just how dry it is in this general area and what these gentlemen are up against.

I do want to point out something else to you that is playing a big role in this problem that we're having. In the upper levels of the atmosphere there is an area of low pressure that has just moved through parts of Kansas. You can see the rotation. Now, how does this play into what's going on? Well, when you have an area of low pressure, there is counterclockwise, OK, winds around it so it is dragging a lot of the winds out of the west and southwest. That's bringing in some more very, very dry conditions.

So that's playing a big part. On top of that, you've got extremely record warm temperatures for this time of the year. We're talking about temperatures, folks, in the 70s and in the 80s. It's 77 degrees right now in Dallas and you can see this bubble of warm air extends all the way as far up as St. Louis, so that just encompasses the entire state of Oklahoma, with your temperatures in the 70s, possibly near record temperatures for this time of the year so when you've got record warm temperatures, Carol, you've got this lack of humidity and with no rainfall for nearly months, that's what's creating these problems, and it doesn't look like we're going to see any rain tonight or even tomorrow.

LIN: All right. Is there anything developing off to the west or to the north that might help them even in the coming week?

MCNEAL: Well, it's funny that you ask that. As of right now, just to the east of this system, what's happening in Oklahoma and Texas is a dry line. And when we talk about a dry line, it's pretty much straddled right in this general area through Oklahoma, back down through parts of Texas. Out ahead of it, across the Southeast, believe it or not we're dealing with showers and thunderstorms. A dry line separates very warm, moist air from dry air, so that's what's the problem here, too, they're stuck right in this dry line zone, so we're not going to see any relief over the next 24 hours.

LIN: Monica, thank you.

All right, Albert Ashwood with the Department of Emergency Management in the State of Oklahoma. Mr. Ashwood, I wish I had better weather news for you but it looks like the map is pretty dry and pretty hot in your neck of the woods.

ASHWOOD: Absolutely. We've realized that for some time. Hopefully there will be a change in the near future.

LIN: Well, given that we're looking at parts of Oklahoma City now on fire, what is your biggest worry? I mean I've got a laundry list here. Cimarron City, Stigler, Wainwright, Oakhay (ph). What are you worried about the most if you have to prioritize?

ASHWOOD: I don't think that you can - you have to prioritize different fires, one over the other just for the amount of damage they can do. You have to look at first protecting the individuals and then protecting the homes and property. Some fires that are out in the pasturelands just have to burn for a while so our firefighters are out there actually doing the work, they are the ones that have to do the priority and we have to support them any way we can to make sure that they do the best job possible.

LIN: Mm-hmm. Well, taking a look at parts of this Oklahoma City neighborhood burning, there are firefighters right down there in the midst of this trying to save some of those homes, trying to keep the fire from spreading any further, it is remarkable the heroics and the stamina of those firefighters right now.

ASHWOOD: Absolutely and we have to rely on individuals to take every caution possible to make sure that they're not careless, make sure that they do not accidentally start fires or burn trash out back or anything like that. We have to take the personal responsibility to be prepared as possible for the coming events.

LIN: I was talking with the Oklahoma fire marshal, Robert Doke (ph) and he believes that some of these fires in the city may have been started by cigarettes being tossed out of a car window.

ASHWOOD: That's always a possibility. There are numerous careless fires that are started. Unfortunately, in the conditions that we have right now, it's critical not to have that happen.

LIN: All right. Albert Ashwood. We appreciate your time. Stay with us for as long as you can and listen in because I've got Brian Stanaland, he is with the Oklahoma City Fire Department. Mr. Stanaland, it looks like a serious situation on the ground. Are you able to contain this fire at least to this neighborhood?

BRIAN STANALAND, OKLAHOMA CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT: We do believe that we can contain it. That is the goal now. We were able to evacuate large areas of this neighborhood that you see. Unfortunately, there are some houses that are burning down there in the neighborhood. We do believe we are going to be able to contain it. We're trying to make a stand here at one of the model section (ph) roads to be able to stop this fire. Our biggest concern is if it spreads further then there is going to be further neighborhoods in danger so we have already as a precaution evacuated neighborhoods to the east of this fire.

Winds are strong, like 40 miles an hour out of the west just blowing, just extremely hard out here, carrying these embers far away.

LIN: Yeah, how far? Because in California wildfires I've covered, embers can go as far as a mile sometimes.

STANALAND: Oh, absolutely. That's easy to do out here in these winds that are happening right now and we're just so dry out here, we haven't had rain for long and we had a really we summer, so we had a significant growing season, so all the vegetation grew up real tall and thick and now it's dead and dormant and dry and it is really - it is just a disaster out here going on right now but the firefighters, we're doing the very best we can with what we've got, trying to keep these fires contained and trying even more than that to prevent injury to any of our citizens.

LIN: Mm-hmm. It's remarkable - given the scene that we're looking at right now, that there haven't been more deaths and injuries.

STANALAND: Yeah. You're exactly right and a lot of that is thanks to the citizens taking heed and getting out and the strong work of these firefighters on the scene, just working diligently to try to keep these fires at bay and we're relying on our citizens, also, to try to keep things under control.

LIN: Mr. Stanaland, I had heard remarkable stories of courage by these firefighters and the incredible stamina that they have put forth in the last five, six days, fighting these fires. They have to be exhausted.

STANALAND: Well, the good news at Oklahoma City, we are full time, paid department with about 950 firefighters on staff and we staff each day with 200. We have three shifts and at least 200 on duty every day and these rotate every day, every 24 hours so the crew that, for instance, is working today, worked Friday, but they had yesterday off and that's just how we do things, we rotate our crews so that - even with our rotation, fatigue can set in very easily with these constant, constant wildfires that keep popping up all over town.

And that's the thing for the viewers that are used to seeing California wildfires - you don't have one large fires moving, in this case you have a bunch of smaller fires consuming the land, so that's kind of the difference.

LIN: And it's harder to fight in that way, isn't it? Because you don't know where it's going to go.

STANALAND: You don't know where the next one is going to happen, that is exactly right. You don't know where the next fire is going to happen so you just position your rigs, taking some educated guesses of how you know the terrain is in the area and just hope you've made the right decision. LIN: How many neighborhoods, then, or how many homes are in the path of this fire?

STANALAND: To be honest with you, I don't know in this particular neighborhood but numerous - there's a lot of homes back there.

LIN: Because I'm just wondering how you're positioning your firefighters. You've got to have some right on the ground in that neighborhood and you've got some working ahead maybe towards the east, since the winds have been coming from the west.

STANALAND: That's exactly what we're doing. We've got positions taken up in the east neighborhood on the other side of the road trying to patrol for embers. We've got crews in the neighborhood itself trying to extinguish the fires and we're trying to make a stand on this road here, it's a road called Cedar Road here in Oklahoma City.

LIN: So can you give me an estimate of how many people you had to evacuate or homes you had to evacuate?

STANALAND: No. I don't have a count at this point.

LIN: All right. Because I'm imagining there's got to be somebody heading off to the east knocking on doors. Is that how you do it? Do you knock on doors and you let them ...

STANALAND: Yeah. You've got to knock on doors and what we're telling people is get in their vehicles and leave the area and just about everybody is doing exactly that.

LIN: How much time do you think those families have? I guess I'm saying, if someone is knocking on my door and says there's a grassfire headed your way, do I have time to grab things, should I pack a bag?

STANALAND: Not really. I would tell people in that situation to grab their pet, a couple of small things and get out. You've literally got just a few minutes.

LIN: Really. So by the time the knock is on your door, it's too late to pack, you've got to get out.

STANALAND: Oh yeah. You just need to get out. That's exactly right. And that's what we're telling our citizens, to stay tuned to television, stay tuned to the radio so that we can do these evacuations when necessary.

LIN: Have you had any problems, people refusing to leave?

STANALAND: Not any reported so far.

LIN: That's pretty good.

STANALAND: Can you hang on a second? LIN: Sure, sure. I'm talking with Brian Stanaland, obviously, very busy. He's the public information officer for the Oklahoma City Fire Department.

He's telling us that they've got close to 1,000 firefighters right in the midst of it there, either battling the blaze in that particular neighborhood, which is about 10 miles from downtown Oklahoma City or leapfrogging ahead to the East to try to warn people to get out and get out fast.

He said part of the problem with this fire, instead of like a wild lands fire where you may have one single fire, albeit large and battling it, this is spot fires moving in perhaps different directions. The winds are gusting now 30-to-35 miles per hour in the city limits.

You're looking at live pictures of parts of Oklahoma City neighborhoods on fire right now. This is just part of the last five days of grass fires we've been covering both in Texas and Oklahoma. Brian Stanaland are you back with me?

STANALAND: Yes, I am, I'm sorry.

LIN: All right, was it an emergency?

STANALAND: We're just talking about utilizing the police helicopter for an aerial view. So that's what we were discussing.

LIN: So what's the latest report that you have on the ground?

STANALAND: The latest really hasn't changed. We're still trying to make a stand here, trying to get things shut down here at the roadway and of course we're going to get back in the neighborhoods down there, and try to extinguish the fires as quickly as possible.

LIN: Is there a point where you let a neighborhood burn, because there's nothing more you can do, or do you take an individual stand at all of the houses around those that are burning right now?

STANALAND: You try to triage the situation, if you will, and try to save the houses that are not yet burned. But you also have to concentrate on extinguishing those that are burning because of all of the embers that are flying off and being put off.

LIN: What do firefighters do if they come across pets?

STANALAND: We just try to do the best we can and get those out, if possible. And the hope is that homeowners will take them with them when they're asked to evacuate.

LIN: Yes, because that's got to be a tough situation there. You know, you're fighting for your own life, to try to stay safe while battling a fire, and here comes somebody's pet dog, lost and alone and your heart breaks. But what can you do?

STANALAND: They just have to make the best judgment call they can.

LIN: Brian Stanaland, thank you very much. If you can stay on the line, please do.

I just want to update our viewers now that we're close to the top of the hour here that we are in breaking news mode. You are looking at parts of Oklahoma City on fire right now. That large ball of fire is a family home. This is a neighborhood that's about 10 miles from downtown Oklahoma City.

I was just talking with the Oklahoma City Fire Department. They've got about 950 firefighters battling these blazes, working in different shifts. The emergency management folks say that the situation is very serious. What they're trying to do is take a stand, block off one of the main roads there, try to fight the fires that are burning and consuming these homes, while protecting others in the neighborhood.

And then they've got firefighters leapfrogging ahead into neighborhoods to the east, warning people to get out. And when the knock on that door happens, those people have a matter of minutes before their life is in danger.

So they are saying that one of the reasons why they've been so few reports of any injuries or deaths is because people have been heeding the evacuation order. People are on the run, because their houses are threatened.

These grass fires we've been talking about since last Tuesday are now in the city of Oklahoma City. We are told by Mason Dunn, who is the helicopter pilot for KWTV in Oklahoma City, that so far, even though this fire that you're watching is so close to downtown Oklahoma City, the winds are blowing in a different direction so there's very little danger of this neighborhood fire spreading to the downtown buildings.

But in talking with the Oklahoma Fire Department, they're saying what's different about this fire is that they are little spot fires. You know, these embers are spreading, you know, in different patterns. And they don't know where the next fire is going to break out. And that is one of the difficult things, the most difficult things in battling this particular blaze.

They're counting on lower temperatures tonight, but it has been unseasonably warm both in Texas, as well as Oklahoma. Monica McNeal, our meteorologist at the CNN Weather Center. Monica, are they going to get any help at all tonight, even just temperatures dropping into the 60s or 50s, which sounds cool right now?

MCNEAL: Carol, you know, the temperatures will drop, but in terms of the winds, will still be somewhat gusty at times. I want to read some of the latest wind information for you. Oklahoma City winds out of the west at 26 miles-per-hour, gusting 35 miles-per-hour. Stillwater, southwest wind 17, gusting up to 28. Norman, Oklahoma, winds out of the west at 24, gusting up to 33. You may have heard me say west winds a couple of times. That's because a weak front has moved through some parts of Oklahoma City and is that going to help things out? No, it just reinforces the already dry air that's already in place at this point.

You're looking at a satellite right now, and this is just showing you that the skies are absolutely clear. We can't buy any moisture. All of the moisture is out ahead of a cold front that's hammering parts of the southeast at this time.

You could see in the upper levels of the atmosphere, this is an upper level low that's pulling its way toward the North and East. That has also created a lot of problems for parts of Oklahoma, and into Texas, because it's helping to pull those winds out of the southwest. But now as that weak front has moved on through, it is shifting those winds around to the West now. And they're still extremely gusty.

The temperatures will cool off tonight, but then will be back to the same old thing once we get started with tomorrow because temperatures will warm back up and will be in this dry region again. I do want to point out something to you, I was telling you about how ahead of what's going on in Oklahoma, and Texas, is some very moist air.

There's a dry line that's creating a lot of this problem as well. When we talk about a dry line, that's a system that is right between Oklahoma, back down into parts of west Texas. And when you have the dry line, it differentiates very warm, moist air that's out ahead of it and then dry air that's behind it.

So that's a big problem, too. And then we've had record temperatures. Take a look at these temperatures right now. We've got temperatures that are this warm at this time of the year. We're in winter, the 1st of the year, it's 75 degrees in Oklahoma. It was 72 degrees about an hour ago in Oklahoma City. So with temperatures this very warm, and with the constant dry winds, looks like it's not going to be anything favorable over the next 24 hours. Carol?

LIN: Well, Monica, boy, these guys need a break.

MCNEAL: Yes, they do.

LIN: Hey, listen in with me if you can. We're going to tune in to one of our affiliates, they've got the Oklahoma County sheriff online, he might be talking about evacuations.

JOHN WHETSEL, OKLAHOMA COUNTY SHERIFF (on phone): The plan of attack on the fire is going to change and we have to relocate equipment. It's difficult to do that with all this traffic that's out here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about your crews right now, Sheriff, and what your deputies are doing. Are they involved in the evacuation right now? WHETSEL: Our crews are assisting Oklahoma City police. Hopefully we're going to be able to get a stop on this thing pretty quickly. And it looks like if it doesn't jump the road, they'll be able to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is good news. This has been a common question, Sheriff, over the last several days, with all of the emergency workers and public servants that we've spoken with who are veterans of various droughts and wildfire conditions here in the metro and across central Oklahoma. Where does this situation, both today and over the last week rank in your memory, regarding the serious drought conditions you've faced in the past and the danger of wildfires?

WHETSEL: Well, I think this is at the top. I was involved in the 1991 fires that came through and destroyed the 40 homes out here in the eastern part of the county. That was like a single-day event, but these keep reoccurring every two or three days. I don't think I've ever seen it this bad or as widespread in Oklahoma County as we've seen this year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you mentioned the widespread nature of this, Sheriff Whetsel. This is thankfully the first day we've really had major trouble here in the metro. Both Tuesday and Thursday, dangerous days for the most part, east of the metro and not heavily populated areas. But you talk about the spots we've seen, within your county today, 122nd and Penn, 33th and Kelley, 150th and Lincoln. If any of those fires were to have gotten out of control that presents serious dangers for the people who live there, and there are just so many structures there.

WHETSEL: There really are and that's one of the things we're talking to people here. We've got a lot of people that have been evacuated. We've got them at our command center and at the different road blocks. And it's really sad to talk to these people.

They know at this point in time nothing's happened to their property, because they can see their homes. But there are some that can't see their homes and they see these huge balls of fire come up, and they're just hoping that it's not their home. And that's really the difficulty in dealing with these people there, because they want to be there, but they know they can't and there's nothing they can do about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a bit of an unusual situation, Sheriff, but not unprecedented. It reminds me somewhat of severe weather season, when we are tracking severe storms, especially tornadoes and we're watching on advantage doppler H.D. as everyone else is, and you're trying to gauge the path of this storm. And you know where you live and you see your cross streets on advantage doppler and you can watch that storm coming.

But this is something you're doing and it's a much more, it's a much slower moving situation and presents a different set of anxieties and concerns. Our final question for you, Sheriff. Your advice to everyone out here? You mentioned first of all, stay off the roads, don't come and be a spectator at these events. What else can you tell people when we're in such a dangerous fire situation?

WHETSEL: All I can tell them is certainly don't throw a lit cigarette from a motor vehicle. I'm sure that that's caused many of these fires. And for those that live in -- especially in the rural parts, what we're seeing is fire comes up to these homes. The biggest battle is what the home owner has planted or what the home owner hasn't moved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we've seen pines and cedars causing so much trouble. Sheriff John Whetsel from Oklahoma County, thank you very much for your time. We could hear it in your voice, just what a long week you and your crews have had. Now, to bring you up to date...

LIN: ... You've been listening in to our CNN affiliate KOCO's live coverage there in Oklahoma City. The situation, if you're just tuning in is that there are fires burning now inside of Oklahoma City metro proper.

You are looking right now as the flames are just about to come upon this home in this neighborhood near Sooner Road. They've got close to 1,000 firefighters in the Oklahoma City Fire Department. They are doing everything they can to save this neighborhood, and to keep this fire from spreading into the neighborhoods to the east. This is about 10 miles from downtown Oklahoma City. We have continuing coverage of this and other fires burning across the state of Texas, so stay with us. We'll be right back.



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