Fires scorch Southwest, burning homes and one entire town

Firefighters in Bowie, Texas, try to get a grass fire under control. Bowie is about 70 miles northwest of Fort Worth.
Numerous wildfires were roaring Thursday through parts of Oklahoma and Texas, engulfing one entire town and searing neighborhoods including one in Oklahoma City. Hurricane-force winds continued to kick the flames higher.

The fires had engulfed so many miles of turf, and flying embers had sparked in so many different places, that hours after the first blazes were reported Thursday morning, safety officials still weren’t sure how many fires they were facing. In Texas, the 100-person town of Stoneburg was “burned over,” by a 25,000-acre fire said Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Misty Wilburn. The town, northwest of Dallas near the Oklahoma state line, had been evacuated, she said. At least 100 homes were believed burned down in Midwest City, Oklahoma, a suburb of Oklahoma City. “There may be way more damage than that,” said city fire Marshal Jerry Lojka. “We don’t have any idea at this time.” Thirteen people were confirmed injured throughout Oklahoma. Two of them, including a badly burned firefighter, were severely injured. Wilburn said Texas authorities were working at least nine major fires Thursday evening, seven in the west and two in the north. “Everything we have is committed to fires,” she said. “Everyone is maxed out.” Feeding the flames were strong winds that were gusting as high as 76 mph, the strength of a Category 1 hurricane, and grounding many emergency aircraft that can’t fly safely in those conditions. On the southwest side of Oklahoma City, wildfires had engulfed eight homes, and were believed to be destroying many more. In Choctaw, Oklahoma, dozens of homes had been destroyed and the high school was threatened, police dispatcher Silva Schneider said just before 8 p.m. Aerial video footage of the central Oklahoma city of about 9,000 people showed row after row of houses in several different neighborhoods engulfed in flames. Watch homes in Oklahoma burn » The Oklahoma towns of Velma, Sparks, Wellston, Healdton and Midwest City, a suburb of Oklahoma City, had all been ordered into mandatory evacuations because of the fires. Officials say the wildfires finding plenty of easy fuel because of dry conditions throughout the Southwest.

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“It’s a bad day in Oklahoma,” said Albert Ashwood, director of the state’s emergency management department. Authorities said that, as night fell, the winds were dying down somewhat throughout much of the area. But nighttime also means that most firefighting aircraft can’t be used, and the winds were expected to pick back up Friday morning. A spokesman for the Texas Forest Service said fires were working their way toward Fort Worth, Wichita Falls and Amarillo, among other cities. He said there were so many blazes that firefighters were having to ignore some of them, and that winds were so high that most firefighting aircraft were unable to fly. Are wildfires affecting you The National Weather Service had categorized much of Texas and Oklahoma an “extremely critical fire weather area” Thursday because of the dry conditions and winds. Large portions of western and central Texas and western Oklahoma are in a drought, according to the service. “We may be able to knock a fire down then, when the wind shifts, it blows sparks over into another area and it just flares back up,” Lojka said of the efforts in Midwest City, where as many as 1,000 people had been forced from their homes. A firefighter who was working near Lindsey, Oklahoma, was in critical condition with third-degree burns over 35 percent of his body, according to a hospital spokeswoman. A motorist in Oklahoma was also hospitalized after driving into an area with heavy smoke, authorities said. While the blazes seemed overwhelming in spots, firefighters were making progress on some fronts. In Breckenridge, Texas, a fire that started in an old landfill and burned several hundred acres had been contained just north of the city limits, according to fire officials. Watch video of wildfires in Bowie, Texas »

But even as that blaze came under control, the fire department received reports of another fire. Wilburn said that as nightfall approached, Texas had been able to get some firefighting aircraft in the air and that five of the fires were at least partially contained.