Oklahoma Heat, Winds Fuel Grass Fires

Grass fires raged across Oklahoma on Wednesday, injuring five firefighters, destroying homes and other buildings and forcing evacuations of schools and businesses, authorities said.

The largest fires burned in Stephens County in southwestern Oklahoma, where two volunteer firefighters suffered severe burns battling a blaze that was at least eight miles long. Their conditions were not immediately available.

"They got trapped and were overcome by fire and severely burned," said Sam Darst, spokesman for the city of Duncan, the county seat.

The fire destroyed at least 30 homes and the Liberty Baptist Church near Meridian.

One fire near Empire prompted authorities to evacuate Empire and Liberty schools, a technical center and a distribution facility, Darst said.

"At one time, the Empire school football field was on fire, but they did get it out," Darst said. "They released the kids to go home."

About 1,000 people had to leave the Halliburton Technical Center and the Family Dollar Distribution Center, he said, and at least 10,000 were without power in Duncan because the fires affected electricity transfer centers in the southern part of the city.

Four other fires burned in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area and blazes were reported near Chandler, Wagoner and Sallisaw in eastern Oklahoma, said Anna Payne, a state fire information officer.

"It's been a very active day today," Payne said. "We're asking people to remember there's a burn ban still in effect for Oklahoma, and tomorrow is expected to be about the same."

The blaze near Chandler destroyed at least four structures, Payne said. At least three firefighters were injured, according to news reports.

A Red Flag Fire warning remained in effect until late Wednesday for all but the Oklahoma Panhandle.

Lingering drought, winds of 20 to 25 mph with higher gusts and record-shattering warmth created favorable conditions for wildfires. Daytime highs reached the 80s and 90s, more than 20 degrees above average for March 1.

A fire burned Wednesday on parched grassland in northeast New Mexico, forcing a daylong evacuation of about 100 people in a small farming and ranching community. They were allowed back in the evening.

The fire, sparked by a downed power line, burned about 12,000 acres, but firefighters kept the fire from spreading into the community of Miami, said Dan Ware, state Forestry Division spokesman.

Meanwhile, a fast-moving prairie fire scorched about 23,000 acres in Colorado's Yuma County. Up to six buildings were burned, U.S. 34 between Eckley and Wray was closed and four firefighters were injured before the blaze burned itself out, sheriff's officials said. The extent of the firefighters' injuries was not immediately known.