Wildfire spares Oklahoma town, plant but still not contained

AP News
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Posted: Apr 06, 2016 6:48 PM
Wildfire spares Oklahoma town, plant but still not contained

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Firefighters struggled to contain a large wildfire in northwestern Oklahoma Wednesday, although they kept it from ravaging the small town of Freedom and an iodine-manufacturing plant. Some buildings were destroyed and one firefighter suffered heat exhaustion.

But fires in Kansas fueled by dry, windy conditions on Tuesday were largely contained, authorities said.

Regional orders to evacuate the Oklahoma town of Freedom and about 100 square miles nearby Woodward County were allowed to expire Tuesday night after the fire's northeastern front stalled on the west bank of the Cimarron River, according to emergency management officials in Woods County and Woodward County.

By late afternoon Wednesday, winds from the north had pushed the fire's path away from nearby population centers, although threats to oil, gas and farm infrastructure remained, Oklahoma Forestry Services Director George Geissler said.

Firefighters worked Wednesday to protect isolated structures and build precautionary containment lines, Geissler said.

That fire had burned at least 86 square miles near the border with Kansas — the same area where blazes last month scorched hundreds of square miles. The fire was sparked Tuesday by "arcing power lines" that touched the dry ground because of gusting winds, Geissler said.

"During high winds, the power lines will start galloping between the poles," Geissler said. "They're actually whipping around. It looks like a jump rope."

Structures have been lost in the northwest Oklahoma fire and in another blaze in central Oklahoma, but damage assessments are still underway, Oklahoma Forestry Services spokeswoman Hannah Anderson said.

There were no injuries reported apart from the firefighter who went to the hospital with heat exhaustion, Anderson said.

Late Wednesday, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin declared states of emergency in 10 new counties: Alfalfa, Blaine, Creek, Dewey, Garfield, Grant, Harper, Logan, Major and Woodward. The declaration enables state agencies to direct more resources to local jurisdictions affected by the wildfires.

In northeast Kansas, other fires that had burned at least 18 square miles of rangeland were contained by Wednesday afternoon, except for small patches that continued to smolder. Ben Bauman, spokesman for the Kansas Adjutant General's Office, said two homes, one mobile home and at least eight outbuildings were destroyed Tuesday. Residents of several rural communities were urged to leave their homes before the blazes were brought mostly under control.

Tuesday's powerful winds also spawned a 100-mile-wide dust storm in the Texas Panhandle with winds of up to 60 mph spreading dirt picked up from Colorado and Kansas.

Volunteer firefighters in that area also rescued a calf as the fire headed toward a pasture, firefighter Landon Cates told The Associated Press in an email.

"There was a pen full of cattle that we did save but this little guy must have got out of the corral and couldn't get back to safety," Cates said, adding that the calf was reunited with the other cattle once the fire had passed through.

In central Oklahoma, another fire about 25 miles northeast of Oklahoma City was 80 percent contained as of Wednesday morning.

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Bleed reported from Little Rock, Arkansas. Associated Press writers Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Missouri, and Hannah Cushman in Chicago contributed to this report.