A Smoky South

Dry, windy conditions fueled wildfires in Texas and Oklahoma on Tuesday

Aug 31, 2011 | By Kelli Plasket
ROBBY FERGUSON—THE FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM/AP

Long droughts and heat waves have left Texas and Oklahoma parched this summer. The hot, dry conditions, combined with increasing winds, fueled the wildfires that broke out in parts of both states on Tuesday. The blazes destroyed thousands of acres and dozens of homes. The source of the wildfires is still unknown. “We’re in severe drought conditions, so just the tiniest little spark can start a wildfire,” says April Saginor, a spokesperson for Texas Forest Service.

Destructive Paths

Firefighters are still working to contain the Texas blazes
KARL ANDERSON—THE COURIER/AP
Firefighters are still working to contain the Texas blazes.

In a northern section of Texas, a fast-moving wildfire began on Tuesday and spread across 3,500 acres by the afternoon. A temperature of 106 degrees Fahrenheit, with winds gusting up to 28 mph, only added fuel to the flames. At least 20 homes were destroyed and 125 more are still threatened in Possum Kingdom Lake, a lakeside community in northern Texas.

The flames and heavy smoke forced a shut down of part of a Texas state highway. At least three people, including two firefighters, suffered minor injuries, according to officials. Some of the affected acres had already burned during a previous wildfire this past spring that destroyed more than 160 homes in Texas.

Also on Tuesday, flames broke out in a heavily wooded area of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Oil-packed cedar trees quickly ignited as the blaze spread across 5,000 acres of the city’s rural outskirts, according to fire officials. Hundreds of residents were evacuated and about 20 homes destroyed. Utility poles also lit up, leaving more than 7,000 homes and business without power. Four people, including two firefighters, were treated for minor injuries. With the help of air tankers and helicopters, the fire was largely contained by Tuesday night.

More to Come?

In Texas, firefighters are still working to contain blazes, and persistent weather conditions aren’t helping. Winds predicted for Wednesday in both states could reignite flames, fire officials warn. "The conditions are similar to what they were yesterday," Oklahoma City Fire Chief Keith Bryant said. "The winds are going to get up. They're already gusting. That'll be our concern on the fires that are still smoldering."

Police and fire officials will work together to determine when evacuated residents can safely return to their homes.