People in charred Oklahoma and Texas are ignoring evacuation orders and risking their lives trying to save their homesteads, said a local disaster responder Saturday.
"People are trying to water down their houses," said Phillis McCarty, disaster coordinator for the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference of the United Methodist Church. "They are staying until they really shouldn't."
Many people feel that their entire family history is at stake, she said. "A lot of our Indian people live on homesteads they've had for 100 years. They don't want to see it go. They're trying to do everything they can to keep it from burning."
In other cases, people are risking their lives to protect their livelihood: cattle, horses and hay. Many farmers have lost hay they stockpiled for the winter. "Many people have already lost their livelihood for the rest of the winter, all their food for cattle. And cattle are being killed," said McCarty.
If fires approach your home, don't stay, warned emergency management officials. Fire danger will remain extremely high this weekend. "We're supposed to have a couple of bad days starting tomorrow," said McCarty.
The weather is expected to remain warm, windy and dry in Texas and Oklahoma for the next few days - and that has officials fearing more grassfires.
So far firefighters have gained the upper hand on fires that raced through the region this week, killing four people. But they're bracing for more problems - particularly from New Year's fireworks.
The fires - fueled by severe drought, gusting winds and high temperatures - have burned some 200 homes in Texas and Oklahoma. Many more homes have sustained fire damage. Authorities believe most of the fires were human-caused.
National faith-based disaster response organizations reported they were contacting local clergy in fire-damaged areas to assess needs.
Oklahoma has received 24 inches of rain this year - 12 inches less than average. The temperature in Oklahoma City last week hit 75 - compared to an average of 47. Three towns outside Oklahoma City set record temperature highs for Dec. 26 that broke records dating back to 1890.
Currently what people most need is temporary shelter while they decide what to do, said McCarty. Rural residents - many of them independent-minded - might hesitate to ask for help, but they will have pronounced needs, she added. "We have a lot of rural residents in our churches," she said, "and right now the grassfires are pretty much all over southern Oklahoma. It's really rough. We hope we don't have any more fires in the next few days. They said on TV the other night this is the worst drought Oklahoma has had since 1921. Everything is so dry. This winter has been so mild."
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