Damages Mount from Fires Across Oklahoma

March 9, 2009

A fire burned down about two-thirds of a city block in Weleeta Okla., one of several that broke out across Oklahoma last week. No serious injuries have been reported.

The fire, which is still under investigation, burned down a cafe and flower shop in the town located about 70 miles south of Tulsa, where the Oklahoma Highway Patrol closed U.S. 75 through the Okfuskee County town.

Traffic was detoured around the city and the OHP said the highway may be closed for up to two days.

The fire began downtown between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and was brought under control after 2 p.m., according to Okfuskee County Emergency Management director Bill Elliott.

“Other than just some exhaustion issues (among firefighters) I don’t know of anyone that’s been hurt,” Elliott said.

“It moved pretty fast and they had several fire departments on it,” Elliott said.

Four or five buildings were destroyed, he said.

In Edmond, a grass fire threatened more than a dozen homes in a new housing addition before being brought under control, said Edmond Assistant Fire Chief Tim Wheeler.

The addition does not yet have fire hydrants and trucks from Edmond, Guthrie, Deer Creek and Oak Cliff fire departments were hauling in water to help fight the flames.

In Dewey County, where a fire that began Mar. 5 forced evacuations of the towns of Taloga and Putnam, residents were allowed to return to their homes, although state forestry officials said part of the fire continued to burn Friday, Woodward County Emergency Management Director Matt Lehenbauer said.

Lehenbauer said the fire started out as a controlled burn that rekindled and got out of control.

Up to 500 firefighters, county employees and emergency management workers battled the blaze on Thursday, and the National Guard dropped buckets of water from a Blackhawk helicopter, Lehenbauer said.

Winds of 10 to 20 mph, with higher gusts, dry conditions and temperatures up to 25 degrees above normal were fanning the flames, said meteorologist Scott Curl of the National Weather Service in Norman.

“Anytime you get those conditions with the dormant vegetation, warm temperatures and low humidity there is a significant danger.”

One firefighter was treated and released for smoke inhalation while fighting the fire in Dewey County, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

At least one mobile home was destroyed by the flames and numerous ranchers reported significant livestock losses, said ODEM spokeswoman Michelann Ooten.

The fire also damaged telephone lines, cell towers and other communications infrastructure. The Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives reported that more than 200 electric poles, 20 distribution poles and numerous miles of conductor line were destroyed.

Damage has been estimated at $570,000, ODEM reported.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved Gov. Brad Henry’s request for federal assistance related to battling that wildfire, both FEMA and Ooten said.

The authorization makes FEMA funding available to pay 75 percent of state, local and tribal government firefighting costs.

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