Wild Fire Burns 1,500 Acres

Monday, February 2nd 2009, 2:37 pm

By: News 9

Associated Press

WOODWARD, Oklahoma -- Firefighters extinguished a large grass fire that scorched an estimated 1,500 acres and led to the evacuation of homes in rural northwestern Oklahoma on Monday, authorities said.

There were no reports of injuries or structural damage, and about 50 residents in southern Harper County were allowed to return to their homes several hours after they were told to leave, Woodward County Emergency Manager Matt Lehenbauer said.

"We had the wind shift today out of the north and it pushed the fire back into areas where it hadn't burned yet," he said.

Oklahoma Highway 34 remained closed from the Woodward-Harper County line northward to U.S. 64, Lehenbauer said.

The blaze began in southeast Harper County on Saturday and re-flared intermittently over the weekend, Lehenbauer said. At least 10,000 acres have been charred, he said.

The fire started back up around 1 p.m. Monday about 10 miles southeast of Selman and burned northeast. The National Weather Service relayed a civil emergency message, activating NOAA weather radios in the area, Lehenbauer said.

Crews were rotated overnight to keep an eye on hotspots, but the size of the blaze and the area, dotted with pastures and ravines, made the fire difficult to contain, officials said.

"The Department of Forestry air support wasn't able to fly over the weekend because of winds and visibility," Lehenbauer said. "We were finally able to get a helicopter with a water bucket up today. If we didn't have that, we'd probably still be out there.

"It gave us aerial spotting assistance and we were able to get water into some of the canyons, where we can't get trucks."

The fire danger has been high in western Oklahoma, an area that has been dry for months and largely missed out on a winter storm last month.

Winds are expected to be lighter for a few days but should pick back up in advance of another storm.

That's not good news because firefighters are exhausted and the equipment was pushed hard, Lehenbauer said.

"The transmissions are out in our vehicles and there are a lot of mechanical problems."

Related Story: Winds Fuel Weekend Fire Near Crescent


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