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OK wildfires claim homes

Wind-driven wildfires burned more than 50,000 acres and forced evacuations in northeast Oklahoma Tuesday.


"At least we have each other. . .At least we're still alive."

—Linda Ring

Bill and Linda Ring choked back tears in a shelter at The United Methodist Church in Chouteau, Okla. Everything they owned was destroyed Sunday by wildfires driven by winds gusting up to 60 mph.

But despite the fire, the Rings still had a thankful spirit. "At least we have each other," Linda said. "At least we're still alive."

The Rings were more fortunate than some of the other families who huddled in the church's fellowship hall - they had insurance.

According to Michelann Ooten, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, as many as 50 families lost their homes due to wildfires that have burned an estimated 50,000 acres in 15 counties during the past 24 hours. Walls of fire, estimated to be 10 stories high at times, skipped across pastures and into neighborhoods. Some firefighters have been treated for smoke inhalation and minor injuries, but no serious injuries have been reported.

Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry issued an emergency declaration Tuesday to help communities recover from their losses. The declaration provides a formal mechanism for requesting federal recovery assistance if it is needed.

Ooten reports that at least five large fires were burning across the state Tuesday, but she says "things are looking up" since winds have calmed down.

"We knew if winds would come down and temperatures would warm up, that would give us a good point to work from today," says Ooten. "It's easier for firefighters to work in warmer weather rather than in the cold."

Oklahoma is well below its average rainfall for this time of year and the southeastern portion of the state is experiencing a record-setting drought.

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Related Links:

Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management

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