Wildfires Rage in Texas and Oklahoma; At Least 4 People Killed in Blazes

December 29, 2005

At least three people in Texas and one in Oklahoma have died as the result of wildfires that have plagued the two rain-starved states in recent days.

The Dallas Morning News reported that a body of a man was found in Hughes County, Okla., by firefighters trying to control a 10,000-acre grass fire in east central Oklahoma. In Texas, two people died when fires moved through Cross Plains, a community about 50 miles southeast of Abilene, and a woman was burned to death when a wildfire swept through the Walnut Bend community near the Red River.

About 50 homes have been destroyed or damaged by fire in Oklahoma and 124 in Texas since the outbreak of wildfires began.

According to the Dallas Morning News, Gov. Brad Henry of Oklahoma said Federal Emergency Management Agency had approved the state’s request for federal assistance to help fight the fires. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has ordered additional state resources, including water-bearing helicopters and air tankers, to help fight the fires, which have occurred mainly in central and north central areas of the state.

All 77 counties in Oklahoma and 156 counties in Texas have burn bans in place. Extremely dry conditions and high winds have exacerbated the problem in both states.

Recognizing the impact of the fires on homeowners insurance, Oklahoma Insurance Commissioners reminded citizens of her state to “make sure their homeowners insurance policies are up to date and current.”

Holland said those who need to file insurance claims should contact their agents as quickly as possible following home damage to begin the process. Anyone who is in need of further explanation or assistance regarding their policies is encouraged to contact the Oklahoma Insurance Department’s consumer hotline at (800) 522-0071.

“I feel for those whose homes and businesses have been damaged by these fires. I commend the firefighters and volunteers that have been working tirelessly to protect Oklahomans and their property,” stated Commissioner Holland.

The Oklahoma Insurance Department’s Web site, www.oid.state.ok.us, has a home inventory checklist that can be a useful tool for homeowners and renters. The form can be used to determine insurance needs before a crisis and is crucial in assisting the filing of homeowner claims – it can be easily printed from the Web site.

Commissioner Holland encouraged all Oklahomans to keep records of the belongings in their home and to discuss their coverage thoroughly with their agent.

Southwestern Insurance Information Service, an insurance industry trade group, noted that most Texas residents are unprepared when it comes to protecting their homes and property from the growing number of wildfires and suggested the reason is because this type of disaster is a relatively new danger facing many people.

“Conditions have been dry for so long that Texas has become a virtual powder keg of tinder dry vegetation that is extremely prone to lightning-caused wildfires,” said Sandra Ray, public affairs director for SIIS.

This a very real and serious threat to Texas residents, she added.

Insurers are urging residents of rural and suburban areas to obey outdoor burning bans, dispose of smoking materials properly and keep vehicles out of tall dry grass.

“Residents in forested areas can safeguard their homes against wildfires by exercising more caution when using machinery and by clearing vegetation and debris that is at least 30 yards from their homes. Create an effective firewall by cutting back lower branches of all trees near your house, and move anything that may be fuel for a fire away from your home,” Ray added.

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