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High winds, dry conditions fuel roughly 100 fires across Oklahoma

Fires raged in and around Oklahoma City Friday afternoon.
Oklahoma City Fire Department
Twitter photo
OKC Fire officials captured a grass fire in progress near the intersection of N. Kelley Ave. and E. Hefner Road, Friday afternoon.

Updated Sunday April 2, at 1:24 p.m.

Oklahomans should continue to be on the lookout for wildfires across the state early this week.

Of the roughly 100 fires that raged across the state, many were knocked down by firefighters quickly, but crews are continuing to mop up hotspots.

According to state emergency management officials, at least 40 homes were destroyed by out-of-control blazes in Logan, Oklahoma and Washington Counties. State health officials report 32 injuries related to the fires, fire weather and high wind.

Continuing forecasted high winds with little chance of rain means more blazes could be likely across the state at least into Tuesday.

Updated Saturday April 1, at 10:25 a.m.

A total of 97 fires blazed across the state on Friday, according to a report by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

Many of these fires were knocked down by officials. However, crews continued mopping up hotspots overnight and into Saturday.

It's unclear exactly how many structures were lost in the fires, but multiple including homes in Logan and Oklahoma Counties were destroyed.

State officials said dangerous conditions primed for fire will continue with little chance for widespread rains across the state and residents should stay cautious.

Quick-burning grass fires sprang up around Central Oklahoma, destroying homes, closing roads and causing evacuations, Friday afternoon.

Wind gusts of 50 to 60 miles per hour throughout the region fed several fires as they spread. Dry conditions coupled with large stands of cedar trees allowed blazes to spread rapidly.

“This is some of the worst fire weather that we've seen this year,” said Keith Merckx, a spokesperson for Oklahoma Forestry Services. “Please exercise extreme caution as we see this elevated fire danger. It's extreme fire danger, and any fire can get out of hand very quickly.”

Around 3 p.m., both northbound and southbound lanes of Interstate 35 were closed in Logan County and an Oklahoma Highway Patrol spokesperson said evacuations were ongoing in the area.

At around 3:30 p.m., the Turner Turnpike was shut down in both directions between I-35 and the Kickapoo Turnpike near Wellston. There were also evacuations in the area.

Officials said motorists need to exercise extreme caution as fires move quickly and unpredictably.

“Never drive into smoke,” Merckx said. “That can be a very hazardous situation.”

The Oklahoma City Fire Department reported that it was working on multiple structure and grass fires.

One fire in Northeast Oklahoma City near the intersection of E. Hefner Road and N. Kelley Ave., caused evacuations and damaged homes that could be seen on television news helicopter footage. Due to the number of fires in the outbreak, authorities haven’t been able to inform residents in all of the areas where evacuations should be happening.

Fires weren’t the only problem created by the winds: Almost 20,000 people were without power in Oklahoma and Logan Counties as high winds knocked over power lines.

Winds are forecasted to calm down early Friday evening and into early Saturday morning, decreasing risk for more fires.

Weather conditions were primed for fires. High winds, coupled with low amounts of precipitation means that most plant life is dormant and “fuel to feed these fires,” Merckx said.

“What we need in Oklahoma is a lot of rain,” he said.

Updated: April 1, 2023 at 10:24 AM CDT
Robby Korth joined KOSU as its news director in November 2022.
Xcaret Nuñez covered agriculture and rural communities for KOSU as a corps member with Report for America from June 2022 to September 2023.
Logan Layden is a reporter and managing editor for StateImpact Oklahoma.
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