The Woodward News

Local News

May 10, 2014

Investigation into fires continues

After more than four days of wildfires that wreaked havoc in the area, firefighters and first responders have officially been demobilized, but the investigation into what caused the fire is still ongoing.

According to Woodward County Emergency Manager, Matt Lehenbauer, the Department of Agriculture is currently investigating the cause of both blazes that sapped state and local resources over the weekend and much of this week.

"They sort of feel they might know what caused it, but they want to investigate it further before making a statement," Lehenbauer said Thursday.

Later Thursday, Woodward Fire Chief Steve Day was able to clarify that comment a bit further.

"What I can tell you is that they do not feel this was anything suspicious or malicious on either of the fires," he said.

In all, the two wildfires injured two men, consumed a combined nearly 28,000 acres, numerous out buildings and seriously damaged one home, according to earlier reports.

According to Day, the costs associated with the two fires, including property loss as well as the costs such as fuel, overtime, help from other fire departments all over the state of Oklahoma as well as costs associated with damage to equipment are still being compiled.

There were also animals injured in the fires, but all of those reports have not come in yet either, Day said.

Day was pleased with the support firefighters received from the public with water donations and other needed resources. He also praised the Red Cross together with Faith United Methodist Church, who set up a shelter at the church where firefighters who came from all over the state, Kansas and Texas could rest and eat something.

"And I am also so thankful for the teams - the seven teams we had mostly from Eastern Oklahoma," Day said. "They came from Eastern Oklahoma mostly because the teams here were exhausted from the fires here, the teams from Oklahoma City were worn out from the fire in Logan County and so that is why we had so many from way over there."

At present, the fire remains better than 95 percent contained and remains on "patrol status," meaning possible areas where it could reignite are regularly patrolling those areas, he said.

The bad news though; the fire threat for the region continues to be extreme here, with 36 counties still in a burn ban ordered by Gov. Mary Fallin.

The ban generally means no burning of debris outside is legal. Campfires and other outdoor cooking are basically prohibited, although cooking with an LPG grills are generally permitted on the conditions the activity be performed on a non flammable service and at least five feet from flammable material. For more information about how to abide by the burn ban, go to http://www.forestry.ok.gov/burn-ban-information.

At present, Woodward is more than five inches under rainfall numbers from last year, according to Oklahoma Mesonet tables. In 2013, Woodward County received about seven inches from January through April of last year. This year, the region has only received 1.66 inches in that same time period, according to stats collected by the Mesonet.

Woodward County is 4.2 inches under the average compiled by the Mesonet for this region. Counties in the panhandle are faring much worse, on average receiving about one inch of measurable moisture since January. Last year, the Panhandle received about five inches of precipitation in that same time period, according to the Mesonet.

Predicted storms this week brought clouds and wind, but failed to produce any rain in most of Northwest Oklahoma and predictions for Northwest Oklahoma don't look too promising, said National Weather Service Meteorologist, Kevin Brown, of Norman. Meanwhile, storms dumped more than two inches of rainfall in the Oklahoma City area this week.

"There are some indications. of a low probability this evening," Brown said on Thursday afternoon. "Then, as a cold front pushes in, we get what looks like a chance late Sunday and with the cooler weather, those conditions could support the chance for some rain."

The good news? Brown said the temperatures would remain cool for most of next week. But that doesn't help the fire danger index any, he said.

The highest fire danger will continue to exist in northwest Oklahoma and in the Panhandle where temperatures will move into the mid-70s and lower 80s, relative humidity will drop below 20 percent and winds will shift from the northwest to the southwest around 11-16 mph gusting to 20+ mph, According to the Oklahoma Forestry Services Fire Situation Report.

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