GUTHRIE, Okla. – Firefighters facing another hot and windy forecast worked Monday to battle a large wildfire in central Oklahoma that destroyed at least six homes and left one person dead after a controlled burn spread out of control.
The wildfire broke out Sunday afternoon near Guthrie and by 9 p.m. had burned an estimated 4 to 6 square miles of land as well as several homes, Guthrie Fire Department Chief Eric Harlow said. The fire was still burning Monday and threatening about 150 additional homes; Harlow said the blaze was about 75 percent contained.
Temperatures later Monday were expected to hit 100, with winds gusting from the south at 33 mph. Tuesday's winds were expected to be higher still, enhancing the risk of the fire spreading further.
"It's not that big ... but the potential is there," said Capt. Stan May of the Oklahoma Incident Management Team. He said two Black Hawk UH-60 helicopters from the Army National Guard were being sent in to help put water on the fire, with a third on standby.
The Guthrie Fire Department said six homes were destroyed but that the number of damaged or destroyed homes would likely rise. Fire department crews assessed the fire and damage by helicopter.
The fire department said about 1,000 people on Sunday evacuated their homes in the city about 35 miles north of Oklahoma City. Harlow said a 56-year-old man who did not leave was found dead in his home Sunday night.
Tony Ergang, 47, was among those who heeded the evacuation warning. Ergang, who lives in a mobile home, stayed as long as possible Sunday night and watched as the flames drew closer before finally heading to a hotel.
He came back Monday morning to survey the damage and found smoke damage to the inside of his home and burns on the outside. He fared better than a neighbor whose home was destroyed, with two burnt cars, a grill, a burnt wooden chair, two lawn mowers and an above-ground pool the only discernible items left.
"It's one of those things," he said. "It's like a tornado that tears through a house, leaving a napkin folded on the dining room table."
The American Red Cross set up a shelter at a church in Guthrie for those affected by the fire.
Smaller wildfires also popped up around the state Sunday, fueled by the hot, dry conditions. The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management said wildfires were reported in the southwest, northwest and north central parts of the state.
Insurance Commissioner John Doak, who had planned to tour the area Monday, had to wait until the fire was more under control, spokeswoman Kesha Keith said. Gov. Mary Fallin planned to tour the area Monday.
The next rain was forecast for Wednesday, when winds were expected to gust up to 39 mph, the National Weather Service said.