OKLAHOMA CITY – President Bush issued a federal disaster declaration for the state of Oklahoma on Tuesday in the wake of wildfires that have scorched more than 380,000 acres across the state since Nov. 1, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.
The declaration means federal funding will be immediately available to affected individuals in 12 Oklahoma counties, said Nicol Andrews, a spokeswoman for FEMA in Washington, D.C.
Other funds will help pay for emergency protective measures, FEMA said.
Damage surveys will continue across the state, and additional counties may be added, FEMA said.
"We're relieved to have this action from the White House," said Michelann Ooten, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. "We're going to have to sort through the paperwork first thing in the morning to determine what benefits will be coming the state's way."
FEMA came under fire in recent days from state leaders who criticized the agency for delays in releasing federal assistance.
Gov. Brad Henry characterized the delay on Tuesday as "a hokey bureaucratic mess."
Despite some scattered showers across Oklahoma early this week, the state has been locked in a dry spell for months with unseasonably warm temperatures and occasional high winds that have fueled the wildfires.
Since Nov. 1, wildfires have consumed more than 380,000 acres, destroyed 220 homes and businesses and killed two people.
Authorities in Texas are also seeking a federal disaster declaration. Wildfires in that state have burned more than 250,000 acres and more than 330 homes since late December.