LUTHER, Okla. (AP) — While residents of one Oklahoma town sifted through their charred belongings Saturday to salvage what they could after a roaring wildfire that may have been deliberately set, residents in two other towns were being ordered to evacuate their homes.
The fire near Luther, which is about 25 miles northeast of Oklahoma City, destroyed nearly five dozen homes and other buildings before firefighters were able to gain some measure of control Saturday.
The fire was one of several burning Saturday in Oklahoma, where a severe drought has parched the landscape.
The fires include a large one in Creek County, in northeastern Oklahoma, that officials said had claimed about 78 square miles, and another about 35 miles to the west in Payne County. Emergency management officials ordered residents of Mannford, in Creek County, and Glencoe, in Payne County, to leave their homes, according to Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Keli Cain.
Cain said no serious injuries had been reported.
Authorities suspect the fire near Luther may have been intentionally set, while the cause of the others was undetermined. The Oklahoma County sheriff’s department said it was looking for someone in a black pickup truck who was seen throwing newspapers out a window after setting them ablaze.
Department spokeswoman Mary Myers said there were “no arrests, no suspects” but deputies were “working around the clock” to find anyone responsible.
Gov. Mary Fallin toured Luther Saturday, hugging residents whose homes and belongings were destroyed by the fire that swept through treetops on 24 mph winds.
“It’s heartbreaking to see families that have lost so much,” Fallin said after talking with some who were milling around the still-smoking debris that had been their homes. “I gave them a hug, told them I was sorry.”
The fire burned just over 4 square miles, including an area near the Turner Turnpike, which carries Interstate 44 between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The superhighway was briefly closed Friday and traffic was diverted onto old Route 66, the cross-country highway that brought Luther a glimmer of life before the interstate bypassing the town was built in the 1950s.
In Creek County, county Commissioner Newt Stephens asked residents to be patient and to stay away from the flames raging in the northern part of the county.
“Keep the gawkers out, and those that are wanting to go in and look. I know it’s a big deal, but it’s just not safe to do that,” Stephens told reporters.
“When the wind comes up and a big flame comes across and them cedar trees look like dynamite going off, it gets scary out there.”
On Saturday, those returning to their homes found charred timbers poking from the debris and the burned out shells of refrigerators, washers and dryers.
“It makes me feel sad,” said Victoria Landavazo, clutching a young child in her arms. “It’s all gone. All of our family pictures, everything was there.”