March 12, 2011 / 1:30 AM / 8 years ago

Oklahoma grass fires rage, emergency declared

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - Grass fires spread by gusting winds swept through parts of Oklahoma on Friday, prompting authorities to dispatch helicopters, bulldozers and hundreds of firefighters to control the blazes.

Governor Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency for all 77 Oklahoma counties.

At least 24 fires burned throughout the afternoon, said Michelann Ooten of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

The fires dotted a wide swath of the state’s rolling plains, from Duncan in the southwest to rural areas near Tulsa in eastern Oklahoma.

Southerly winds that gusted up to 47 miles per hour during the day, combined with drought conditions, made the state ripe for grass fires, said Lamont Bain, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norman.

“Even if it’s a small fire or small ember, the potential for growth is so great,” he said.

No deaths were reported, Ooten said Friday afternoon. Local officials ordered some schools and residential areas near the fires to be evacuated.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with all Oklahomans who have been impacted by these fires as well as our emergency responders in harm’s way,” Fallin said in a statement. “We know homes, as well as other property, have been lost and we will work to do everything we can to help Oklahomans during their time of need.”

Under the governor’s executive order, state agencies can make emergency purchases and acquisitions needed to expedite the delivery of resources to local jurisdictions. The declaration also marks a first step toward seeking federal assistance should it be necessary.

Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Greg McCune

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