January 1, 2006

Wildfires force evacuations in Oklahoma City

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - Wildfires fueled by high
temperatures and strong winds damaged several homes around
Oklahoma City on Sunday and forced 15 to 20 families to
evacuate as the flames neared their houses, officials said.

The fires were the latest to break out in the lower Great
Plains, where months of drought have combined with unseasonably
warm weather to turn the prairies in Oklahoma and Texas into

Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel said his department
had been on the scene of 19 fires on Sunday, but all were now
either out or contained so they no longer threatened homes or

Television reports showed bright orange lines of fire
burning in areas on the outskirts of the Oklahoma capital.

Michelann Ooten, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of
Emergency Management, said 25,000 acres had burned in the state
in the past week, 100 houses had been destroyed or damaged and
that one person died last Wednesday.

Since November 1, 250,000 acres had burned in Oklahoma, the
State Emergency Operations Center said.

Temperatures on Sunday reached the 70s (21-25 C) in most of
the state, well above normal highs for this time of year. Winds
of 35 to 40 mph (56-64 kph) whipped across the plains, the
National Weather Service said.

Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry said he had asked President George
W. Bush to expedite the process of declaring the state a
disaster area for the purpose of getting federal aid.

Neighboring Texas has also had numerous wildfires in the
past week, including one that burned 90 homes in the small town
of Cross Plains in north-central Texas. At least three people
had died in the flames, officials said.