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Oklahoma Fires Continue Burning

Firefighters slugged through heavy brush and thick smoke to battle a stubborn wildfire that has scorched nearly 40,000 acres while Oklahomans who lost their homes to other blazes sifted through the charred rubble.

The fire that continued burning early Thursday in southern Oklahoma's rugged Arbuckle Mountains was the largest of more than 100 that have consumed fields and forests, and damaged or destroyed at least 60 homes across the state this past week.

"A lot of families are just devastated. I've dealt with a lot of fires but nothing this large," said Pat Oliver, executive director of the Red Cross chapter in Logan County, about 50 miles north of Oklahoma City.

There are currently 31 fires burning on 923,696 acres in Alabama, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming.
79,199 fires have gobbled up 6,939,112 acres.
Updated Sept. 21, 2000, with information from the National Interagency Fire Center

A half dozen air tankers and eight helicopters from Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas ferried tons of water to the 17 wildfires still burning. Between 200 and 300 Forest Service firefighters from across the South were helping weary crews.

"This additional manpower from the Forest Service will be a tremendous asset to fight this fire on the ground," said Albert Ashwood, state director of emergency management
A grass fire along Interstate 35 in the Arbuckle Mounts north of Davis forced the temporary closing of the southbound lanes.

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At least 31 homes were destroyed by wildfires that swept acros Logan County on Tuesday, Ashwood said. Much of central Oklahoma has not seen measurable rainfall for more than 50 days, and gusty winds have helped spread flames through the dry countryside.

Crews in orange trucks worked on gravel roads that snaked through thick woods to replace burned utility poles. Black patches of burned earth cut across pastures and through woodland in seemingly random patterns.

The fire destroyed five of six buildings at the Woodlands Equestrian Centre, including the home of owners David and Laura Harris.

"This is devastating," David Harris said. The cross-country equestrian courses at the center were also ruined.

Jack Carson, a spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture, said investigators believe many of the fires have been arsons, carelessly ignited by cigarettes, fireworks and other burning items thrown onto dry grass.

Dino and Carol Rubbio were surprised when they saw their house still standing in the midst of charred destruction.

"I don't know how in the world that house got saved. It had to be a miracle," Dino Rubbio said.

On Wednesday in California, a forest fire engulfed a woman's home, killing her and injuring a firefighter who stayed until the last minute trying to persuade her to leave.

The fire, about three miles from Paradise in northern California, started Tuesday and grew to more than 1,600 acres during the night. Crews had expected to contain it by Wednesday morning but shifting wind carried flames across containment lines, California Department of Forestry officials said.

A voluntary evacuation order had been issued for the Paradise area, affecting about 1,000 people.

A captain from the forestry department tried to talk the woman into leaving early Wednesday, but she refused, said Karen Terrill, CDF public information officer.

"He stayed as long as he could, then he sustained injuries and had to leave," Terrill said. She said the captain was treated for burns on his hands and face.

Paradise Fire Chief Jim Broshears said firefighters can't force people to leave.

"Once someone has left an area we can close it and not let them in," he said. "Otherwise we can strongly advise that they leave and that there's an immediate threat."

At least seven other people were injured fighting the blaze, which destroyed the woman's home and another structure. One person was struck on the head by a falling tree, but was expected to return to work within a few days, Terrill said. Six others were injured when the fire overran two fire trucks. None of the injuries was serious, she said.

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