PUTNAM, Okla. — Several homes and structures were destroyed by fire Friday, set ablaze by wildfires sweeping across western Oklahoma.
The state is under an emergency declaration by the governor for 52 counties because of the dozens of wildfires that began April 12, having burned more than 240,000 acres as of Friday evening, according to the Oklahoma Forestry Service. At least one death has been reported in connection to the fires.
“This is historic fire weather we’re having,” said Mike McConnell, an Oklahoma Forestry Service Ranger.
“(Fire crews will) be out here all night, working on this, trying to do what we can.”
The fires, fanned by strong winds with gusts upwards of 60 mph and aided along by drought conditions, forced the evacuations of several towns including Seiling, Taloga and Putnam Friday.
“It’s been ominous all day long,” said Don Avery, while sitting in his pickup truck with his wife, watching the fire creep closer to the small town.
Avery, who lives south of Putnam, runs the the local cooperative and came back to check on the building after the evacuation.
“It just kept getting closer and closer and then by 4:00, 4:30 (Friday afternoon), it was really getting close. that’s when we bugged out.”
South and southwest winds turned to west and later north winds Friday afternoon, undoing much of the work accomplished by fire crews over the last 24 hours.
At least three homes and other structures in Putnam were destroyed by the wildfires throughout the day and into the evening Friday, despite firefighter’s attempts to douse the blazes. Many sparked by glowing embers reignited by the winds and carried to dry grasses.
Fire departments from across the state, including the Oklahoma City Metro area, Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs and Oklahoma Forestry Service rangers, joined volunteer fire protection districts and landowners to fight the fires in the town.
“There’s trucks here from Ft. Gibson, Copan, Oklahoma — a little town up there near my hometown — there’s firefighters from all over,” said Scott Smith, a member of Mountain View Emergency Management, who was helping the efforts in Dewey County.
“We got here and started shutting the highway down because you couldn’t see to get across it.”
A number of fire department tenders and oil field semi trailer tankers ferried water, nearly non-stop, to waiting brush pumper crews quickly returning to the staging area before heading back out into the fields.
“It’s been a steady flow,” said Dave Cano, a firefighter with Federal Correctional Institution El Reno, between fire crew fill ups. “Back and forth.”
When small talk conversations could be had, many turned to the weather and the need for rain.
“I want to fight like the third monkey trying to get on (Noah’s) ark for some rain,” said Dewey County Undersheriff Jeramy Rogers.