Oklahoma residents survey wildfire damage; 1 dead

An Edmond firefighter looks at a fire raging in a mobile home park near Prairie Grove Rd. and Douglas during Oklahoma wildfires in Logan County, Sunday, May 4, 2014. Firefighters worked through the night and into early Monday to battle the large wildfire that destroyed at least six homes and left at least one person dead after a controlled burn spread out of control in central Oklahoma. (AP Photo/The Oklahoman, Nate Billings)

GUTHRIE, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma residents returned to the charred remains of their homes Monday as firefighters battled a stubborn blaze that began after a controlled burn a day earlier went awry and swept through the parched countryside with wind gusts at 31 mph.

A man who rejected an evacuation order died in the blaze Sunday night, authorities said. Forecasters said the fire danger will get worse before it gets better, with temperatures to reach 100 on Monday and Tuesday and daytime wind gusts to steadily grow stronger.

“One thing I know about Oklahomans is we’re strong. We’re resilient,” Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said Monday after visiting with emergency management officials. A pair of water-lifting helicopters was dispatched to the scene earlier in the day and Fallin said she had asked the federal government to arrange for a large air tanker to be sent in from Arizona.

About 1,000 people were evacuated from their homes on Sunday but many returned to the rural area about 35 miles north of Oklahoma City on Monday to survey the damage.

Rachel Hudson, 32, lost her home in the blaze. And around the time the fire arrived, her daughter Mariah was in a car accident. The teenager will need surgery.

“That was all going on at the same time our house was burning down,” Hudson said by telephone as she sought shelter provided by the local American Red Cross. The home where she lived with her daughter, her ex-husband and her mother was not insured.

“I’m scared. I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said, starting to cry. “We lost everything.”

Three of Mariah’s friends from school spent Monday picking through the rubble and salvaged some dishes, antiques, tools and knickknacks.

“We’re just trying to help out as much as we can,” Shelby Cremeens said.

Oklahoma Forestry Services spokeswoman Hannah Anderson said the fire had burned about 2,400 acres, or 3.75 square miles, as of early Monday afternoon. Local fire officials believe it started with a controlled burn but it wasn’t immediately known who had set the blaze.

Logan County did not have a burn ban in place Sunday when the fire broke out, Anderson said. However, she said, conditions were ripe for a fire with a recent drought, high temperature readings and strong winds.

The same conditions were present Monday.

“We’re just trying to put that thing out,” Anderson said. “Weather always has an impact on fire behavior. With temperatures high and humidity so low, anything can spark a wildfire. We want the public to be vigilant: It’s hot, it’s dry and it’s windy.”

Karen Dilley and her sister Lorine Biggs surveyed damage to their parents’ smoldering 160 acres Monday. Their 58-year-old house had been spared but firefighters were worried it might still be in danger.

“I hope my mom doesn’t have to start over. She’s too old for that,” Dilley said.

Tony Ergang, 47, said he stayed as long as he could at the family’s mobile home Sunday night before going to a hotel. He returned Monday to wait for insurance adjusters after the back of his home burned and the inside sustained smoke damage.

A home down the street from his was charred. Ergang said it was clear he was just fortunate.

“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.”


Associated Press writer Justin Juozapavicius contributed to this report from Tulsa.

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