SEILING, Okla. - Firefighters worked into the evening Wednesday in northwest Oklahoma to contain a portion of a larger wildfire that has burned hundreds of thousands of acres since last week.
Crews conducted night operations on an area of land about five miles southeast of Seiling, despite efforts of crews on the ground and in the air to contain the blaze throughout the day. Fire officials say the dry fuel on the ground, plus sustained winds and low humidity, easily rekindled in the hard to reach canyons and watersheds which provided a safe harbor for embers to smolder.
"The fuels we have are very much available. They’re very dry. The weather includes the wind and humidity," said said Greg Heule, who is working with the Southern States Type I Incident Management Team called in from Georgia to help. "So fuels, weather and topography, you put those together and that’s what creates our fire behavior."
The fire's behavior proved tempestuous throughout the day as helicopter and fixed-wing tankers dropped water on the fire and hot spots below, hoping to slow the blaze and protect vulnerable structures.
"There’s going to be a fire here for quite a while," said Heule. "(It's) not like fire we saw (Tuesday), and since Thursday, but there’s going to be pockets of fire, throughout, for quite a while until firefighters can get done mopping everything up."
The Rhea fire, as of Wednesday evening, has burned nearly 300,000 acres of land, in some parts stretching from the northern to the southern county lines. At least 50 homes have been destroyed and at least two deaths reported since the wildfires began on April 12.
"We kept our sprinklers going around the clock, it was non-stop," said Jenni Jones, who lives south of Seiling.
“All of a sudden you come up here and a cedar tree will catch on fire," said her husband, Ron Jones, "And it would just explode and it will set something on fire for about 30 or 40 yards."
Fire crews from across the state and country have been on hand to fight the number of wildfires in the state, aided along by strong, shifting winds. The Butler Volunteer Fire Department, based out of Delaware County in northeast Oklahoma, saw first hand how quickly the wildfires can turn after losing a fire truck in the Rhea fire Tuesday.
After having worked throughout the day to connect portions of the fire southeast of Seiling, that included intentional burns to remove potential fuel sources, officials say hard work is still ahead in the coming days.
"We’re looking forward to Saturday," said Heule. "From the perspective of maybe a possibility of an inch of rain. That would do a tremendous amount of work out here."