Wildfire Still Smolders Across NW Oklahoma

Wednesday, April 6th 2016, 6:34 pm
By: Grant Hermes

A mix of interstate and federal firefighters continued to battle wildfires that burned in northwestern Oklahoma on Tuesday.

Fueled by high winds, low humidity and an abundance of drought stricken grassy fields, the fires raged across hundreds of acres. Several firefighters who were able to take a momentary break called the flames unpredictable given the conditions.

"Very erratic behavior," Oklahoma Forestry Department Director George Geissler said. "The normal things you might do sometimes don't work." 

According to the state forestry department, the 350 fires this week have burned a total of 55,308 acres. Officials believe the fires were started by power lines that had been downed by wind gusts topping over 50 mph.

4/6/16 Related Story: Wildfire Burns Almost 56K Acres In NW Oklahoma; Still Out Of Control

Geissler said the department has been battling fires since February, adding in just three months the total numbers of acreage scorched has surpassed 600,000 acres.

According OFD, 230 firefighters worked to put out blazes on Wednesday. Crews from as far away as Tennessee have come to the Sooner State's northwestern counties. Along with them, the U.S. Forestry Service has also sent four planes. 

Two small aircrafts were tasked to drop fire retardant and water to tamp down dust. The remaining two, known as "Super Scoopers," made 25 minute round trips to nearby Fort Supply Lake, scooping water into the aircraft to be poured over the flames. Geissler also added the federal government supplied a Very Large Aircraft Tanker or VLAT from New Mexico to do the same.

But ultimately, Geissler said the fights would be won with "boots on the ground" tactics.  

"If we don't get a line around it if we don't get good containment on this thing, it will keep going," Geissler said. As of Wednesday afternoon, state estimates showed the fires have burned an additional 2,500 acres and was zero percent contained.

Rancher Monte Hepner said he had been moving cattle to safety for most of the morning on Wednesday. He owns 1600 acres directly south of the Cimarron River. He watched his neighbor's property burn on Tuesday and said he was worried the conditions would be too much for fire crews. 

"I'm pretty worried," he said "You can feel the wind it's not going to be easy to control."

However, Geissler said there was reason to be optimistic. He said overnight forecasts for Wednesday showed favorable conditions for fighting the flames. He said crew may be able to take a head on approach instead of attempting to only contain the fires. Thursday is still expected to be a red flag day for fire warnings.