Oklahoma fires continue to burn; residents return home
OKLAHOMA CITY - Many Oklahomans forced to leave their homes because of raging wildfires were being allowed to return Sunday, despite some fires continuing to burn.
A "monster" fire had devoured almost 91 square miles and continued to burn between Mannford and Kellyville in northeastern Oklahoma's Creek County as light rain and cooler temperatures gave firefighters a brief respite Sunday, said Oklahoma Forestry Services spokeswoman Michelle Finch-Walker.
She described the blaze as hopscotching as it burns some areas and leaves others untouched.
"It's not like an inferno moving across the landscape," Finch-Walker said. "You can drive for miles down the highway and see nothing but black, but then you can see pockets of green, pockets unburned.
"Maybe there was a creek (that stopped the fire)," she said. "Maybe the wind blew it in a different direction."
Finch-Walker said residents of the town of Mannford, which was evacuated Saturday, had been allowed to return and that she was not aware of any other evacuation orders.
Officials with the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management did not immediately return phone calls Sunday seeking comment.
Nigel Holderby, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, said shelters remained open Sunday in Payne County, about 35 miles to the west.
Finch-Walker said three firefighters were treated and released Friday after suffering burns, but that there had been no reports of serious injuries as a result of wildfires statewide. Since late last week, as many as 18 fires have been reported.
The National Weather Service said .15 to .16 inches of rain fell early Sunday in the area, but no more was expected until at least midweek.
"They really ran out of steam the further south that they moved," meteorologist Bart Haake said about the rainfall.
Haake said temperatures for the next two to three days are expected to be somewhat milder, in the 90s rather than above 110 degrees.
Finch-Walker said firefighters welcome that bit of news, but with the knowledge that it's only about a two-day window.
"It's not fabulous," she said. "We're not out of the woods by any stretch."
She said the fire season was just getting under way, and whether it will be as severe as 2011 cannot be projected. Forestry services firefighters battled about 1,800 blazes in 2011, including an estimated 93 square-mile fire in the Wichita Mountains of southwestern Oklahoma.
The causes of the various fires had not been determined Sunday, although one that began Friday near Luther was being investigated as a possible arson. Witnesses told Oklahoma County sheriff's deputies they saw a man throwing a lighted newspaper from a black Ford pickup.
Sheriff's spokesman Mark Myers said Sunday that no arrests had been made and no suspects identified.
"We're getting leads and following up on them," Myers said.
Gov. Mary Fallin toured Luther on Saturday, calling the sight "heartbreaking" after visiting with families milling around the still-smoking debris of what remained of their homes.
"I gave them a hug, told them I was sorry," Fallin said.