April 19, 2018
Wildfires continued to rip through western Oklahoma on Thursday, burning over 300,000 acres of land and leaving behind dozens of destroyed homes.
Flames broke out last week amid historic fire conditions, including dry weather and high winds. At least two people have been killed as a result of the fires, including a 61-year-old man who had been out hunting and a woman, who was found dead in her vehicle.
Exceptional droughts have plagued large parts of the southern plains, Todd Lindley, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma, told HuffPost. Some areas of the state have gone roughly 185 days without a quarter inch of rainfall, he said.
“It’s been a very dangerous situation,” Shawna Hartman, a spokesperson for the Oklahoma Forestry Service, told BuzzFeed. “This is a condition that we don’t see every day.”
Rhea Fire, the largest blaze, had charred over 280,000 acres in and around Dewey County as of Wednesday evening, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. Most of the livestock that grazed on the affected pastures have either died or been injured, reported local CBS affiliate KWTV.
About 15 percent of the Rhea Fire had been contained as of Thursday afternoon, according to the state’s forestry service, with “burning cedar trees contributing to the fire’s growth by sending wind-borne embers far ahead of the main fire, igniting unburned vegetation.”
The second major blaze, dubbed the 34 Complex Fire, began roughly 45 miles north of the Rhea Fire in Woodward County and has consumed more than 65,000 acres, according to the state’s emergency management department.
Flames tore through the small town of Martha, Oklahoma, on Saturday, destroying at least 15 homes in its path, including 56-year-old Lloyd Lake’s house, where he had lived with his wife, Delena, for 21 years.
“We lost everything,” Lake told HuffPost. “We got out with the clothes we had on. ... The fridge, the furniture ― that kind of stuff doesn’t mean anything. But the picture our granddaughter drew us ― those kinds of things are the big things.”
Strong winds caused the blaze, which began at a local cotton co-op, to spread rapidly across the town. The Lakes evacuated around 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. Seven hours later, they discovered their home had been completely burned down.
Oklahoma Wildfires Leave At Least 2 Dead, 20 Injured
The couple left with their three dogs but were unable to save Tweety Bird, the white dove they had owned for 15 years. They’re also waiting to see if their two outdoor cats survived the blaze.
“Where we live, there’s always a chance that this kind of thing can happen, but you never expect it to be you,” Lake said. Despite the risk, he has no plans to move elsewhere.
“I’m doing everything I can do to get things settled so that I can start rebuilding my house on the same piece of property,” he said. “Everyone in town is helping everyone. Being this close to people for 20 years, it’s like family.”
Fire officials and meteorologists were optimistic about the fire conditions heading into the weekend, with rains predicted for late Friday into Saturday, Lindley, of the National Weather Service, said.
“It looks like there’s some hope on the horizon,” Lindley said. “Hopefully, the rain will start to bring an end to the fire season.”
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