As wildfires flared all over the state Saturday, a swift-moving grass fire that started in the area of Interstate 40 and U.S. 177 in Shawnee grew and burned more than 500 acres and destroyed two structures while another grass fire

thereatened a horse barn at St. Gregory's University.


As wildfires flared all over the state Saturday, a swift-moving grass fire that started in the area of Interstate 40 and U.S. 177 in Shawnee grew and burned more than 500 acres and destroyed two structures while another grass fire
thereatened a horse barn at St. Gregory's University.
Shawnee Fire Capt. Tony Wittman said crews on 12 grass rigs, four
tankers and one engine battled the largest grass fire that was reported
about 12:30 p.m. on the north side of westbound I-40 and mile marker
182.
Crews had about a four-minute response time, Wittman said, but the fire
spread fast.
"It grew quick - our trucks couldn't keep up with it," he said, adding
the flames moved extremely fast across fields of trees and brush.
Two structures, including some type of outbuilding and a barn, were
destroyed, he said, as nearly 10 homes in the area were threatened by
that blaze.
Firefighters from Shawnee, Bethel Acres, Tecumseh, McLoud, Earlsboro
and Meeker joined forces and converged on the area to divert flames
around those homes, Wittman said. Wittman said crews did a great job and  were able to save the homes, although some did sustain
slight heat damage.
As intense smoke from the fire filled the area, several livestock in
the path of the fire had to be set free during that blaze, Wittman said, and there were reports of tractors lost to the fire.
It took crews several hours to get that fire under control, he said,
and fire crews were still out hitting hot spots by late evening in that
area.
Wittman conservatively estimated that about 500 acres burned, but said
since parts of two land sections were involved, it could have been
closer to 600 acres.
The fire occurred in sections from I-40 to Westech road between Acme
and Coker roads and also from Coker
to U.S. 177, he said, with crews stopping the fire before it went past
Westech Road.
In addition to Shawnee crews on duty, Wittman said 12 off-duty Shawnee
firefighters returned to work Saturday to assist with coverage.
As crews battled that blaze, portions of both Westech and Coker Roads
were shut down to traffic, Wittman said.
Cause of what sparked that blaze was unknown, Wittman said.
Wittman praised the American Red Cross volunteers on scene who
provided water and essentials to fire crews. But it was the area
residents that firefighters also appreciated, Wittman said, as many
of those homeowners brought water and icy wet towels from their homes
to fire crews to help them cool off while battling the fire.
"They probably don't know how much we appreciate that," Wittman said.
That type of community help also occurred Saturday afternoon when
another grass fire flared near St. Gregory's
University.
Shawnee Fire Chief David Short said that  grass fire occurred on the
southwest side of the campus and burned mostly cedar trees and grass in
about 5 acres, although that wildfire did threaten a barn where horses from a
therapy program are housed. Luckily no damage was reported.
"The guys made a great stop on the fire," the chief said.
The wildfire came within about 15 feet of that structure. Short said
fire crews have no idea was sparked that blaze.
McLoud and Bethel Acres firefighters assisted Shawnee crews in getting
that blaze quickly under control.
The American Red Cross also was on the scene providing water for fire
crews, but Short said others from the community also were there to help and
offer firefighters water and anything else they might need.
"There were so many gracious people that helped," the chief said.
With devastating fires all around central Oklahoma, from Cleveland
County to Luther, Short said crews are helping each other as they can.
When Earlsboro had a large fire a week ago, Cleveland County sent a
task force to help.
Friday night, as areas near Norman battled blazes that consumed homes,
Short said he sent a crew of Shawnee firefighters to that area to help.
While fires continued to burn all over the state Saturday, Oklahoma
emergency management officials reported that more than 52,000 acres had
burned in the state since Friday. Most of them were reported in Creek
County, but thousands of acres burned in the Luther and Cleveland
County fires.
In Lincoln County Saturday, some evacuations were ordered in areas
north of Stroud, where a wildfire jumped SH 99 near County Road 740. As
of mid-evening, there appeared to be no reports of any structures
burned in that fire, although an evacuation center was set up in
Cushing.
With dry conditions, the entire state remains under a Governor's burn
ban. Gov. Mary Fallin is  encouraging all Oklahomans to be cautious
of the severe conditions.
The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management also reminds everyone
that wildfires can easily be sparked and are encouraging to be careful
when pulling off a road as hot catalytic converters can ignite vegetation.
And for those who smoke in their vehicles, officials ask everyone to
extinguish cigarettes in vehicle ashtrays and to never toss a cigarette
out of a car window or put one out on the ground.