Many wildfire evacuation orders lifted in Oklahoma


A "monster" fire had devoured almost 91 square miles and continued to burn between Mannford and Kellyville in northeastern Oklahoma's Creek County as light rain and cooler temperatures gave firefighters a brief respite early Sunday, said Oklahoma Forestry Services spokeswoman Michelle Finch-Walker.

She described the blaze as hopscotching as it burns some areas and leaves others untouched.

"It's not like an inferno moving across the landscape," Finch-Walker said. "You can drive for miles down the highway and see nothing but black, but then you can see pockets of green, pockets unburned.

"Maybe there was a creek (that stopped the fire)," she said. "Maybe the wind blew it in a different direction."

Finch-Walker said residents of the town of Mannford, which was evacuated Saturday, had been allowed to return.

Gov. Mary Fallin traveled to Mannford and nearby Drumright on Sunday, where she met with residents and local officials, telling reporters afterward that the state is doing all it can to assist in putting out the flames.

"This has really stretched the resources of the state of Oklahoma," she said. "It's just been a huge fight."

Finch-Walker said OFS had sent pumper trucks with water and bulldozers to fight the fires, while the Oklahoma National Guard provided helicopters to dump water on the flames.

"They don't put out the fire, they cool down the area," by dropping water on a blaze, Finch-Walker said. "To allow firefighters to get in and fight."

Nigel Holderby, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, said four shelters remained open Sunday: at a senior center in Cushing and churches in Sand Springs, Lexington and Choctaw.

An information center in the high school auditorium in Luther also remained in operation, Holderby said. The center, established by the Red Cross, Salvation Army and other agencies, is providing residents with information on how to find government assistance, such as replacing birth certificates and Social Security cards.

Finch-Walker said three firefighters were treated and released Friday after suffering burns, but that there had been no reports of serious injuries as a result of wildfires statewide. Since late last week, as many as 18 fires have been reported.

The National Weather Service said .15 to .16 inches of rain fell early Sunday in the area, but no more was expected until at least midweek.

"They really ran out of steam the further south that they moved," meteorologist Bart Haake said about the rainfall.

Haake said temperatures for the next two to three days are expected to be somewhat milder, in the 90s rather than above 110 degrees.

Finch-Walker said firefighters welcome that bit of news, but with the knowledge that it's only about a two-day window.

"It's not fabulous," she said. "We're not out of the woods by any stretch."

She said the fire season was just getting under way, and whether it will be as severe as 2011 cannot be projected. Forestry services firefighters battled about 1,800 blazes in 2011, including an estimated 93 square-mile fire in the Wichita Mountains of southwestern Oklahoma.

The causes of the various fires had not been determined Sunday, although one that began Friday near Luther was being investigated as a possible arson. Witnesses told Oklahoma County sheriff's deputies they saw a man throwing a lighted newspaper from a black Ford pickup.

Sheriff's spokesman Mark Myers said Sunday that no arrests had been made and no suspects identified.

"We're getting leads and following up on them," Myers said.

Gov. Fallin toured Luther on Saturday, calling the sight "heartbreaking" after visiting with families milling around the still-smoking debris of what remained of their homes.

"I gave them a hug, told them I was sorry," Fallin said.

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