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Fires Pop Up Across Central Oklahoma Amid High Winds, Dry Conditions

Quick-burning grass fires sprang up around Central Oklahoma, destroying homes, closing roads and causing evacuations, Friday afternoon.

Wind gusts of 50 to 60 miles per hour throughout the region fed several fires as they spread. Dry conditions coupled with large stands of cedar trees allowed blazes to spread rapidly.

“This is some of the worst fire weather that we’ve seen this year,” said Keith Merckx, a spokesperson for Oklahoma Forestry Services. “Please exercise extreme caution as we see this elevated fire danger. It’s extreme fire danger, and any fire can get out of hand very quickly.”

Around 3 p.m., both northbound and southbound lanes of Interstate 35 were closed in Logan County and an Oklahoma Highway Patrol spokesperson said evacuations were ongoing in the area.

At around 3:30 p.m., the Turner Turnpike was shut down in both directions between I-35 and the Kickapoo Turnpike near Wellston. There were also evacuations in the area.

Officials said motorists need to exercise extreme caution as fires move quickly and unpredictably.

“Never drive into smoke,” Merckx said. “That can be a very hazardous situation”

The Oklahoma City Fire Department reported that it was working on multiple structure and grass fires.

One fire in Northeast Oklahoma City near the intersection of E. Hefner Road and N. Kelley Ave., caused evacuations and damaged homes that could be seen on television news helicopter footage. Due to the number of fires in the outbreak, authorities haven’t been able to inform residents in all of the areas where evacuations should be happening.

Fires weren’t the only problem created by the winds: Almost 20,000 people were without power in Oklahoma and Logan Counties as high winds knocked over power lines.

Winds are forecasted to calm down early Friday evening and into early Saturday morning, decreasing risk for more fires.

Weather conditions were primed for fires. High winds, coupled with low amounts of precipitation means that most plant life is dormant and “fuel to feed these fires,” Merckx said.

“What we need in Oklahoma is a lot of rain,” he said.

Source : Public Radio Tulsa