OKLAHOMA CITY – Authorities took one man into custody on suspicion of arson and were searching for another after a wildfire in southwestern Oklahoma destroyed at least 30 homes and forced the evacuation of two schools, a nursing home and area businesses.
The fire was one of several fueled by gusty winds and high temperatures, and firefighters remained at the scene for a second day Thursday. Seven firefighters have been injured while fighting the blazes.
No other information was available about the man taken into custody in connection with the fire in Stephens County.
"They do believe this fire was purposely set," said Sam Darst, public information officer for the city of Duncan, the county seat.
The Stephens County blaze forced the evacuation of a technical center and the Family Dollar Distribution Center, as well as schools and a nursing home.
Two firefighters suffered severe burns. One was in critical condition, and another was in satisfactory condition, Darst said.
Other fires burned in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area and blazes were reported near Wagoner and Sallisaw in eastern Oklahoma, said Anna Payne, a state fire information officer.
The fires came ahead of an approaching weather system that kicked up winds out of the south at 20 to 25 mph with higher gusts. Temperatures on Wednesday shattered records for March 1 in Oklahoma City, where it hit 92 degrees, and Tulsa, where it reached 93 degrees. Conditions were expected to be similar on Thursday.
Three firefighters were injured while battling a blaze near Chandler that destroyed at least four structures, Payne said. Chandler Assistant Fire Chief Bobby Johnson said firefighters were able to control the fire at times, but it moved too rapidly to extinguish.
"We won't know for days what all has been lost," Johnson said.
In Broken Arrow, one firefighter inhaled smoke and another sustained minor burns while helping suppress a possible arson blaze that charred about 300 acres, officials said.
In neighboring Tulsa, a lit cigarette is believed to have started a fire that blackened 300 to 500 acres, Tulsa Fire Capt. Larry Bowles said. One barn was destroyed, and four other structures were threatened, officials said.
Also Wednesday, a fire burned 12,000 acres of 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.
Meanwhile, a fast-moving prairie fire scorched about 23,000 acres in Colorado's Yuma County. Up to six buildings were burned 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.