OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Some Oklahoma residents have returned to emergency shelters despite evacuation orders in many areas of the state being lifted, as wildfires continued to burn.
Pastor Greg Mack at Slaughterville Baptist Church, where a shelter was set up for those forced from their homes by the fires in Cleveland County, said Sunday that some residents have not been able to reach their homes and others are finding theirs burned.
“They’ve been leaving here, trying to get to their homes. Some of them are and some of them aren’t” able to return home, Mack said.
Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Keli Cain said the agency did not know how many evacuation orders remained in place. She said officials would start Monday on helping in areas where requested.
“We’ll be watching the fires and sending resources as needed,” Cain said.
Many residents forced to leave their homes as wildfires raged were allowed to return Sunday, even though some fires were still burning and emergency shelters remained open in four communities.
A “monster” fire had devoured almost 91 square miles and continued to burn between Mannford and Kellyville in northeastern Oklahoma’s Creek County as light rain and cooler temperatures gave firefighters a brief respite early Sunday, said Oklahoma Forestry Services spokeswoman Michelle Finch-Walker.
She said the blaze hopscotched, burning some areas and leaving others untouched.
“It’s not like an inferno moving across the landscape,” Finch-Walker said. “You can drive for miles down the highway and see nothing but black, but then you can see pockets of green, pockets unburned.
“Maybe there was a creek (that stopped the fire),” she said. “Maybe the wind blew it in a different direction.”
Finch-Walker said residents of the town of Mannford, which was evacuated Saturday, were allowed to return.
Gov. Mary Fallin traveled to Mannford and nearby Drumright on Sunday and met with residents and local officials. She told reporters afterward that the state is doing all it can to assist in putting out the flames.
“This has really stretched the resources of the state of Oklahoma,” she said. “It’s just been a huge fight.”
Finch-Walker said Forestry Services had sent pumper trucks with water and bulldozers to fight the fires, while the Oklahoma National Guard provided helicopters to dump water on the flames.
“They don’t put out the fire, they cool down the area,” by dropping water on a blaze, Finch-Walker said. “To allow firefighters to get in and fight.”
Nigel Holderby, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, said four shelters remained open Sunday: at a senior center in Cushing and churches in Sand Springs, Lexington and Choctaw.
As many as 18 fires have been reported since late last week. No serious injuries have been reported. Three firefighters were treated and released Friday after suffering burns, Finch-Walker said.
The National Weather Service said .15 to .16 inches of rain fell early Sunday in the area, but no more was expected until at least midweek.
Temperatures for the next two to three days are expected to be somewhat milder, in the 90s rather than above 110 degrees, meteorologist Bart Haake said.
Firefighters welcome the news about milder weather, Finch-Walker said, but realize those temperatures will only last a couple days.
“We’re not out of the woods by any stretch,” she said.
The fire season is just getting under way, she said, and whether it will be as severe as 2011 cannot be projected. Forestry services firefighters battled about 1,800 blazes in 2011, including an estimated 93 square-mile fire in the Wichita Mountains of southwestern Oklahoma.
The causes of the various fires had not been determined Sunday, although one that began Friday near Luther was being investigated as a possible arson. Witnesses told Oklahoma County sheriff’s deputies they saw a man throwing a lighted newspaper from a black Ford pickup.
Sheriff’s spokesman Mark Myers said Sunday that no arrests had been made and no suspects identified.
“We’re getting leads and following up on them,” Myers said.
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