Wind, heat fuel destructive Oklahoma wildfires

Associated Press
Flames leap into the air as area firefighters fight a wildfire on Cemetery Road east of 120th on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012, east of Norman, Okla.  A wildfire stirred by high winds sweeping through rural woodlands just south of the Oklahoma City area has set at a number of homes on fire.  (AP Photo/The Oklahoman, Steve Sisney) TABLOIDS OUT

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NOBLE, Okla. (AP) — A wildfire whipped by gusty, southerly winds swept through rural woodlands south of the Oklahoma City area Friday, burning a number of homes as firefighters struggled to contain it in 113-degree heat.

Oklahoma's emergency management officials said 25 structures had burned east of Noble, including a handful of homes. The sheriff's office directed residents of 75 to 100 houses to leave the area as flames spread through treetops. The evacuation area, south of Lake Thunderbird, is about 30 square miles.

"I loaded the kids up, grabbed my dogs, and it didn't even look like I had time to load the livestock, so I just got out of there," said Bo Ireland, who lives a few miles from where the Noble-area fire started. "It looked to me that, if the wind shifted even a little bit, I would be in the path of that fire. It was just too close."

There were no immediate reports of injuries or livestock losses from the fires, which also charred the earth near Geary and Luther.

With the ongoing drought, high temperatures and gusty winds, it took little for fires to begin and spread — and there was little crews could do to fight them.

"It's difficult for the firefighters to get into the area because it's heavily wooded on either side of the smaller roads. When the winds are blowing 25 mph it just blows the embers and fireballs across the roads as if they weren't even there," said Jerry Lojka with the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

At mid-afternoon Friday, the temperature at nearby Norman was 113. Winds were from the south and southwest at 14 mph, gusting to 24 mph.

"I can tell you the temperatures and the wind are not helping the situation at all. Some homes have been lost in the fire unfortunately, but we don't know how many," said Meghan McCormick, a spokeswoman for the Cleveland County Sheriff's office.

Russell Moore, 53, who lives in the Noble area, said he was outside in his yard when a sheriff's deputy drove down the road and told people to leave. He and his son went to a shelter set up at Noble City Hall, but planned to go to his daughter's home in Norman.

"About all we saw was smoke and a little bit of ash raining down from the sky," Moore said. "Everybody was piling into their vehicles and leaving as we were."

Lojka said an Oklahoma National Guard helicopter has been dispatched to a fast-moving blaze in Luther, northeast of Oklahoma City. He also said helicopters were helping ground crews with a fire near Mannford and Drumright in Creek County. Helicopters from the National Guard and the Bureau of Indian Affairs were fighting a fire in Creek County.

The state was monitoring 11 fires in all Friday afternoon. Gov. Mary Fallin announced a statewide burn ban as the fire danger heightened. She previously had announced a state of emergency for all 77 counties due to the extreme drought.


Associated Press writers Rochelle Hines and Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

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