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One Dead, Thousands Evacuated As Fire Burns In Oklahoma

American Red Cross of Central and Western Oklahoma
Smoke billowing from the wildfire that started in Logan County near Guthrie Sunday afternoon.

Updated Monday, May 5 at 8:03 a.m.

About 1,000 people have been evacuated as a massive wildfire burns in a town north of Oklahoma City.

The Guthrie Fire Department says six homes have been destroyed but that number is expected to increase as more assessments are conducted Monday morning.

"We've requested air support from the National Guard," Guthrie Fire Department Chief Eric Harlow says. "The wind and weather conditions will dictate whether we can get that. We do have three or four bulldozer units from the [Oklahoma Forestry Services]. We'll use those to get on the ground, try to build some fire breaks, and try to keep this thing contained."

About 150 homes are ahead of the fire that could burn until at least Wednesday. Authorities concentrated Monday morning on an area north of Prairie Grove Road between Midwest and Douglas Blvds.

Harlow estimated crews had contained roughly 75 percent of the fire Monday morning. The wildfire broke out Sunday when a controlled burn that began at about 4 p.m. got out of hand in an area about 35 miles north of Oklahoma City.

"The way the law is written in Oklahoma, anyone that intentionally starts a fire such as this, and it gets out of hand, they can be held financially liable for any damage caused," Harlow says. "Burning your trash is a controlled burn, burning a brush pile is a controlled burn. Any intentionally set fire, other than an accidental fire, is a controlled burn."

It is legal to burn, since no counties in Oklahoma are under a burn ban, although it's strongly discouraged. 

The blaze continued to burn Monday morning and authorities say crews are assessing the situation by helicopter.

"Normally in these situations, we have winds shift or a cold front come through," Harlow says. "We're not going to have that this time. Wednesday afternoon at the earliest is what we're looking at for any weather changes."

Authorities say a 56-year-old man who chose not to evacuate was found dead in his home. The blaze has burned a total of about 5-7 square miles of land, including several homes.

Harlow says one resident was treated for minor burns and smoke inhalation, and one firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion before rejoining the containment efforts.

The American Red Cross of Central and Western Oklahoma has set up a shelter at a church at 512 East Seward Road in Guthrie.

"Emergency response vehicles will be loaded with food, snacks, water," Red Cross spokeswoman Tamara Pratt told KOCO television Monday morning. "We'll be going through that affected area as people start to get back into their areas, their homes, and try to start doing some cleanup."

No roads are closed, and residents are allowed into the area to assess their property at their own risk, although Harlow stressed authorities and emergency responders don't want onlookers in the area.

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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