WOODWARD, Okla. – Firefighters battling a large wildfire in northwestern Oklahoma caught a break Thursday from diminished winds, but forecasters warned that other areas of the Midwest are at risk for pop-up fires because of dry air and strong gusts.
The Oklahoma fire has burned nearly 90 square miles of mostly rangeland in an area about 170 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. On Wednesday, wind gusts of 50 mph made it difficult for firefighters to establish containment lines for the blaze, Oklahoma Forestry Services spokeswoman Hannah Anderson said.
“It became the perfect recipe for erratic fire behavior,” Anderson said.
But winds, while still noticeable, weakened Thursday morning in northwest Oklahoma, and Anderson said crews are hopeful they can make progress battling the blaze, which was 20 percent contained Thursday morning.
One firefighter suffered heat exhaustion but no other injuries have been reported. However, firefighters are battling fatigue after local departments that are barely free from suppressing last month’s large wildfire in Oklahoma and Kansas work day and night to control the one in Woodward County, fire chief Steve Day said.
No towns or cities were threatened Thursday afternoon, although oil and agriculture infrastructure was at risk, Day said.
The county’s emergency management director, Matt Lehenbauer, said officials were still trying to assess the extent of property damage on Thursday.
Wildfires have also burned at least 18 square miles in Kansas and about 20 square miles in the western Nebraska Sandhills region. The Storm Prediction Center said an area covering more than 120,000 square miles in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma is at a critical risk for wildfires on Thursday. A red flag warning is in effect for those areas, which could see temperatures in the 60s and wind gusts of up to 50 mph, forecasters said.