OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma authorities on Tuesday urged residents of the small town of Freedom to evacuate as a wildfire flared in the same area of northwestern Oklahoma near the border with Kansas where blazes last month scorched hundreds of square miles.
Woods County Emergency Management Director Steve Foster said sheriff's deputies were encouraging the 300 or so residents of Freedom to evacuate.
The fire was burning uncontrolled, stoked by wind gusts of around 40 miles per hour, said Woodward County Emergency Management Director Matt Lehenbauer.
"If we don't get a handle on the head of the fire in the next two to three hours, then that community will be in danger," Lehenbauer said.
Authorities said their task was complicated by shifting winds. The wind initially was from the southwest but is expected to shift to the west, which could be more dangerous for Freedom. Late on Tuesday winds could shift again, blowing from the north, Lehenbauer said.
Officials estimate the fire has burned roughly 20 square miles of rural land. Local television video showed the fire crossing a road and sending thick plumes of smoke into the air. More than a dozen fire departments and Oklahoma Forestry Services were fighting the blaze.
The town of Freedom is about five miles southwest of the spot where a previous fire started in March, then spread from Oklahoma into Kansas, scorching an estimated 574 square miles of rural land in the two states.
Tuesday's fire threatened homes and an iodine-manufacturing plant, Lehenbauer said. Officials don't believe the plant would be a significant explosion risk, but it could produce environmental hazards if it caught on fire.