Western Oklahoma Escapes Wildfires Despite Dry Heat

By KEN MILLER | March 10, 2016

An Oklahoma forestry official said Monday that the western part of the state “dodged a bullet” when no wildfires developed despite conditions described as “critical fire weather” by the National Weather Service.

Conditions were definitely ripe for wildfire in western Oklahoma and the Panhandle with humidity as low as 5 percent in the far western Panhandle, wind gusts of more than 30 miles per hour and temperatures in the upper 70s, according to Oklahoma Forestry Services fire management chief Mark Goeller

“When you look at the temperature, winds and the humidity out west, I think we definitely dodged a bullet,” Goeller said.

A fire near Bartlesville in northeast Oklahoma burned 111/2 square miles. KOTV in Tulsa showed video of wild horses escaping the flames. Another fire burned less than one square mile near Luther in central Oklahoma.

Goeller said forestry firefighters and equipment that includes aircraft capable of dropping water and fire retardant and bulldozers to clear fire-prone vegetation remain stationed in western Oklahoma in case they’re needed.

“Our policy the past two weeks has been to have resources prepositioned around the state so we can get to the fires while they’re still small,” Goeller said.

Rain fell from central and eastern Oklahoma on Monday and much-needed rain was forecast for western sections of the state and the Panhandle starting Tuesday.

Bill Bunting, the operations manager of the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said storms could be more widespread Tuesday in Oklahoma and Texas – central and south Texas in particular.

“Give some thought to your severe weather plan,” Bunting said, speaking by telephone while an alarm sounded in the background during an SPC severe weather drill. “Where will you go if severe weather threatens.”

Forecasters had predicted a “slight risk” of severe weather Monday through the Southern Plains, and an “enhanced risk” in south Texas on Tuesday. “That looks like the day we’ll have more of a substantial threat,” he said.

He defined an area south of Oklahoma City to the Gulf Coast, with a tornado threat slightly greater south of Dallas to Austin and over to Houston.

“As conditions unfold, pay attention. Conditions that favor storms can occur over a small area for a period of time,” Bunting said.

(The Associated Press’ Kelly Kissel in Little Rock contributed to this report.)

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