- Associated Press - Friday, February 19, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Firefighters across several southern Plains states battled grass fires, with the largest blazes Friday consuming more than 80 square miles in Oklahoma and forcing some residents to evacuate their homes.

Wind gusts of more than 50 mph had died down by Friday, but the state’s low humidity and high temperatures still posed a significant fire threat. Officials implored residents to avoid burning outdoors, as new fires could strain emergency personnel who were already stretched thin from fighting fires overnight.

Smaller fires have cropped up in other states, including a northwest Missouri grass fire Thursday that damaged about 2 square miles of land and briefly spawned a “fire tornado.” Onlookers captured photos and video of at least one funnel of flames that looked like a small, orange tornado moving across the site.

Fire departments monitored fires throughout Oklahoma, including one in Harper County that burned about 27 square miles and another in Okfuskee County that burned at least 21 square miles, said Michelle Finch-Walker, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Forestry Services.

Most of the burned area was in sparsely populated rural areas, said Keli Cain, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. Residents were evacuated in several counties, although those numbers weren’t yet available.

One firefighter was hospitalized after being struck by a vehicle on a smoke-covered roadway. No other significant injuries to emergency personnel were reported.

“Firefighter fatigue is a concern and we hope that the lighter winds today, coupled with citizen’s vigilance, give us an opportunity to gain the upper hand safely,” said George Geissler, Oklahoma state forester.

Conditions were expected to improve over the weekend, Finch-Walker said.

Firefighters in Texas were battling at least nine blazes Friday that consumed nearly 700 acres of grass lands.

Kansas has also had more fires than are typical in February, said Eric Ward, fire planning specialist with the Kansas Forest Service. Up to 2 square miles have burned in the past few days.

One Kansas fire truck sent to augment efforts in Oklahoma ran off the road amid the smoke and overturned, Ward said.

The Kansas State Fire Marshal’s office was investigating the cause of a grass fire that burned a day earlier in Montgomery County. That fire damaged some oilfield property, which could mean a large dollar loss, said Kevin Doel, a spokesman for the office.

In the Chicago area, high winds caused a wall to collapse at a construction site and a roof to partially cave in at a suburban office building. A car was crushed at the construction site, but no injuries were reported.

___

Associated Press reporter Roxana Hegeman contributed to this report from Wichita, Kan.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide