Smoke and ash were visible as far south as Fort Worth over the weekend and wildfires continued to flare up across northwestern Oklahoma.
The two main fires, 34 Complex and Rhea, have drawn support from across the state and around the nation. With 45 percent of the fires at 34 Complex controlled as of press time, an estimated 67,778 acres have been affected there, said Shawna Hartman, the Public Information Officer for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry. A Type 2 incident management team is assisting with that fire. The Rhea fire, which is located in Dewey and Custer Counties, has involved 245,433 acres, Hartman said. As of yesterday, that fire was 3 percent contained and was being managed by a Type 1 team from Florida IMT. Hartman said emergency services will be requesting out-of-state resources to give the local task forces a much needed break. She also said they are expecting wind shifts that will send the widespread smoke and ash north into Kansas over the coming days. Task forces from Cleveland, McClain, Payne and Pottawatomie Counties responded overnight. A helicopter, four single engine air tankers, three heavy tankers and two super scoopers are on scene to assist.
Bryan Painter with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry said the fire danger is still firmly in place, with a slight reduction in fire weather. Painter said this may give firefighters the opportunity to make headway on these large, ongoing fires. Forecasted conditions will move the fire danger back to extreme conditions early in the week, Painter said. “Escalating fire danger through Tuesday is expected with potential for temperatures back up into the 90’s and relative humidity values below 15 percent in western Oklahoma and below 25 percent along the I-35 corridor,” Painter said. Sustained southwest winds up to 30 mph and gusts of 40-45 mph will again present a very concerning fire behavior scenario with extreme rates of fire spread anticipated, said Painter.
Hartman said other fires in the vicinity have added to the strain on resources. Oklahoma Forestry Services and county services have been on the initial attack with pop up fires. One blaze in Martha, Jackson County, Oklahoma, burned about 33 acres and was very destructive due to multiple structure involvement. That fire is currently burning south toward the river. Another comparatively small fire in Waynoka is still being monitored, as are two blazes in Caddo County, both approximately 100 acres each. Payne County Emergency Management reported a fire east of Gayle that is moving into heavy timber according to Oklahoma Forestry Services latest update.
So far, two fatalities have been reported — a 61-year-old male who was assisting with fires last week and one female who was trapped by flames in her vehicle during an evacuation said Hartman.
Resources are available to assist residents and evacuees from the fires. Other injuries reported include three smoke inhalation and six heat related injuries.
A state of emergency remains in effect for 52 Oklahoma counties due to critical fire weather conditions. Under the Executive Order, which began Thursday, state agencies can make emergency purchases and acquisitions needed to expedite delivery of resources to local jurisdictions. It also marks the first step to seeking federal assistance. The counties included in the governor’s declaration are: Alfalfa, Beaver, Beckham, Blaine, Caddo, Canadian, Carter, Cimarron, Cleveland, Comanche, Cotton, Creek, Custer, Dewey, Ellis, Garfield, Garvin, Grady, Grant, Greer, Harmon, Harper, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnston, Kay, Kingfisher, Kiowa, Lincoln, Logan, Love, Major, Marshall, McClain, Murray, Noble, Oklahoma, Okfuskee, Okmulgee, Osage, Pawnee, Payne, Pontotoc, Pottawatomie, Roger Mills, Seminole, Stephens, Texas, Tillman, Washita, Woods and Woodward.
Resources are available to assist residents and evacuees from the fires. The Oklahoma Insurance Department is in northwest Oklahoma to help those affected by the wildfires. Those that need help with any insurance issues related to the fires, call (800) 522-0071. If you wish to help the victims of the wildfires in western Oklahoma, please visit the state’s donations page at http://bit.ly/2qC0L5w.