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Oklahoma City fire sends horses, people fleeing
August 31, 2011 / 2:05 AM / 6 years ago

Oklahoma City fire sends horses, people fleeing

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - A wildfire in a wooded area of Oklahoma City forced hundreds of homes to be evacuated on Tuesday, destroying some and causing panicked horse owners to let their livestock loose, residents and a fire official said.

Separately in Texas, residents of a popular lakeside community near Fort Worth were being evacuated, mostly by boat, as a separate fast-burning wildfire raged, cutting off roads.

Before it was contained late on Tuesday, the Oklahoma fire affected a sparsely populated 8-square-mile portion of the northeast part of the city that features swathes of cedar trees which exploded into flame as wind-whipped fires reached them.

“They’ve got a lot of oil within the tree itself,” Oklahoma City Fire Chief Keith Bryant said. “They burn extremely hot and they burn very, very fast. A lot of times when it hits those, that’s what really advances the fire.”

The stricken area is dotted with properties in which residents keep horses that were turned loose as the fire advanced. At least 15 structures were destroyed, Bryant said, adding it was not clear how many of those were homes.

Dee Corley, a stable owner in a nearby area, took in horses that had been evacuated and had an employee pick up wandering strays to prevent traffic accidents.

Before night fell, she had taken in 25 horses as well as 11 dogs and two cats. She refused to accept payment but was considering taking hay donations.

“I‘m just glad I can help. That’s what it’s all about,” she said.

About 200 firefighters kept the blaze from spreading north to more populated areas while two National Guard helicopters dumped water on the fire. Neighboring cities and counties sent reinforcements.

Southerly winds gusting up to 25 miles per hour along with low humidity and drought conditions made the wildfire difficult to contain, but officials expected winds to subside at dusk.

“We’re going to be mopping up hotspots for some time,” the fire chief said.

TEXAS BLAZE BURNING QUICKLY

In neighboring Texas, firefighters were using helicopters to battle a blaze that quickly consumed 3,000 acres on Tuesday, and authorities were evacuating homes along Possum Kingdom Lake, mostly by boat because main roads were cut off.

“We do not have any confirmed reports of injuries or structure losses,” Texas Forest Service spokeswoman April Saginor said.

At the scene, Steve Anderson, owner of a realty company at Possum Kingdom Lake, said the fire was a frightening sight.

“It is a substantial fire that doesn’t seem to be anywhere near under control,” Anderson said on Tuesday evening.

Most of Texas has been under extreme drought for the past 11 months and persistent triple-digit heat continues to plague most of the state.

A ban on outdoor burning is in place in 251 of Texas’ 254 counties due to the drought and triple-digit heat, the Forest Service said.

“I can’t believe we are facing this again,” said Sherry Berman, a Dallas-area resident who owns a vacation home on Possum Kingdom Lake that was spared in a fire that hit the area in April.

“It’s the same anxiety all over again.”

In a separate incident, a 21-year-old volunteer firefighter was arrested over the weekend in connection with setting a grass fire in a rural community south of Dallas-Fort Worth.

Patrick Pantuso of Arlington, Texas, was arrested on an arson warrant, and later posted bond, officials said. They were investigating whether Pantuso was connected to other fires in the area south of Dallas-Fort Worth.

Additional reporting by Marice Richter; Editing by Cynthia Johnston

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