High winds, dry conditions fuel wildfires across Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico
OKLAHOMA CITY – Wildfires raged across Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico on Sunday, burning several homes in Oklahoma City and sparking patchworks of flames across the region as gusting winds blew flaming embers into the dry grass.In Texas, at least 20 fires sprang up Sunday, continuing several days of damaging grass fires that officials warned were likely to continue as long as the dry, warm and windy conditions held on.An 8,000-acre blaze threatened 200 homes near Carbon, about 125 miles west of Dallas, and at least three homes had been destroyed by evening.Just west of the Texas border in Hobbs, N.M., officials evacuated a nursing home, casino, community college and several neighborhoods as firefighters battled spreading grass fires on the western edge of the town of 29,000.In Oklahoma City, two neighborhoods were evacuated as flames snaked across the northeastern part of the city and several homes were in flames. One man suffered minor smoke inhalation after refusing to evacuate his home, Stanaland said. Firefighters later rescued the man in a field near his home.”We will overcome this challenge,” Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry said in a televised news conference Sunday night as the fires continued to burn.Drought-like conditions have pushed the fire danger to critical levels across Oklahoma and Texas.Last week, wildfires in the two states ravaged more than 50,000 acres, destroying nearly 100 homes and businesses and killing four people. Oklahoma put out an emergency call for more fire crews from other states, and the governor asked for a federal disaster declaration.At least a dozen wildfires were burning in Oklahoma on Sunday, pushed by 50 mph wind gusts. A large blaze near Guthrie threatened several homes, said Michelann Ooten, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.”Today has been extremely intense,” Fire Maj. Brian Stanaland said in Oklahoma City. “I think it’s maybe starting to take its toll on our department.”Power lines arced and sparked one grass fire in the city. While firefighters battled that blaze, high winds tossed material from a nearby construction site into power lines, causing the debris to burn before it landed on a nearby nursing home, Stanaland said.”You basically had flying, flaming debris,” Stanaland said. “Luckily, we were already on the scene putting out the fires when it happened so we were able to put it out.”A fire near Wainwright in Muskogee County charred several thousand acres and was at least a mile wide, but no injuries or structure fires were reported, said Bill Beebe, an information officer at a statewide command center established in Shawnee.In Carbon, Texas, at least three homes and several barns were destroyed Sunday afternoon and area residents were evacuated, said Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Traci Weaver.Helicopters with the Texas Air National Guard assisted firefighters as billowing clouds of smoke hung across the horizon for miles.Carbon is just northeast of Cross Plains, where more than 90 homes and a church were destroyed in a raging grass fire last week.”We just took up money for the folks in Cross Plains at church this morning, never thinking it would be us in just three hours,” said Mallory Fagan, who waited in nearby Eastland with her daughter Shana Fuchs and 15 dogs they rounded up from the family’s dog rescue.Fires raged along the Texas state line in New Mexico, including one reported at 40,000 to 50,000 acres along 20-mile line, said Dan Ware, a spokesman for the state Forestry Division.Four structures burned in Hobbs, where residents – including 27 living at a nursing home – evacuated the western side of the city, Ware said.—Associated Press writer Angela K. Brown in Carbon, Texas, contributed to this report.