OK wildfire damage assessed

With many of last week's raging wildfires now under control, Oklahoma officials are just now able to begin assessing damages.

BY HEATHER MOYER | OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. | December 5, 2005


With many of last week's raging wildfires now under control, Oklahoma officials are just now able to begin assessing damages.

According to a spokesperson for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management (OEM), four main wildfires are still burning at a "very modest level" but are contained.

"In some of the areas they're doing mop-ups, and in others they are still watching hot spots," said Michelann Ooten, OEM's public information manager. Damage estimates at this point show that the wildfires burned more than 50 homes across eastern and south central Okla., but Ooten said they know that number will increase as assessments continue.

Another factor the OEM is investigating is just how many of the affected families had insurance. Many farmers are also suffering after losing crops and equipment to the wildfires, added Ooten.

The four worst blazes are in McIntosh, Stephens, Mayes and Garvin counties. Hard hit communities include Velma, Choteau, Pryor and Antioch. Authorities are investigating some of the fires as arson, while other fires were known to have started when high winds knocked down power lines.

Oklahoma is suffering from a severe drought, and those dry conditions combined with low humidity and high winds only helped fires rage early last week - with fires consuming more than 50,000 acres of land within 24 hours last Sunday and Monday.

"This is a very bad wildfire season," said Ooten. "There are two other times in recent memory that it's been like this - the fall of 2000 and in February of 1996. We'll continue to have a very dangerous situation here until we get some measurable precipitation."

Ooten added that there is a statewide 'burn ban' aimed at helping lessen the number of potential wildfires.

With only a slight chance of precipitation in the next week, Oklahoma may remain in fire danger for some time. "It's pretty bad to be hoping for a blanketing of snow across the state," said Ooten, "but that's exactly what we're hoping for."


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