Residences cleared as fire threatens Oklahoma City

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) ? Fire officials ordered residents from dozens of homes Tuesday as a spectacular wildfire pushed by 25 mph wind gusts threatened part of Oklahoma City.

Bursts of flame rose amid thick black smoke as oil-packed cedar trees ignited, giving gawkers a stunning view even from blocks away. Utility poles lit up like matchsticks, and power was out to more than 7,000 homes and businesses.

The fire had yet to consume any structures, but as a precaution residents in a 2-square-mile area were asked to leave their homes. Others nearby were advised to stay alert. School children on buses home were diverted to an elementary school set up as an emergency shelter.

A near unrelenting heat wave this summer made conditions ripe for grass fires, with Oklahoma City setting a record for the number of days in a year with temperatures above 100.

“Conditions are very extreme,” Fire Chief Keith Bryant said. “Things will burn much more easily than they would at other times.”

Smoke rolled northward from the fire, paralleling Interstate 35 in Oklahoma City’s northeast corner. From time to time flames could be seen amid the roiling black cloud.

“This is a heavily wooded area,” Bryant said. “There are cedar trees out here. Cedar trees burn very hot. They’re very heavily laden with oil. A lot of times when the cedar trees do go up, they burn very hot.”

Rusty Surrette, a spokesman with the American Red Cross, said there were dozens of homes in the area immediately threatened.

Paramedics transported a 60-year-old woman in good condition after she was overcome with heavy smoke, said Emergency Management Services Authority spokeswoman Lara O’Leary.

Helicopters with the Oklahoma National Guard were brought to the scene to dump water from the air, Bryant said.

A separate grass fire was reported near Bethel Acres, just east of the Oklahoma City metro area, said Jennifer Dawson at the Pottawatomie County Emergency Management Agency.