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The Shawnee News-Star
  • Extreme fire danger: Outpouring of support for those affected by grass fires continues

  • Following the recent wildfire outbreak with homes lost all over Oklahoma, officials are encouraging everyone to remain cautious and vigilant to avoid sparking any type of fire while efforts also are ongoing to assist those who have been displaced by recent fires.


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  • Following the recent wildfire outbreak with homes lost all over Oklahoma, officials are encouraging everyone to remain cautious and vigilant to avoid sparking any type of fire while efforts also are ongoing to assist those who have been displaced by recent fires.
    According to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, drought conditions will continue across the state with little improvement anticipated through the end of August.  
    Shawnee/Pottawatomie County Emergency Management Director Don Lynch said in 100-plus-degree weather, fires are easily started and can grow out of control quickly.
    “A lot of things you might not think of can create a spark,” he said. “Stay safe, stay inside, and don’t do anything that could cause a spark.”
    Shawnee firefighters responded to one grass fire Monday following an active weekend.
    Shawnee Fire Capt. Tony Wittman said since temperatures were down somewhat Monday and humidity levels were higher, fire crews had somewhat of a reprieve.
    “That helped us out a lot,” Wittman said about the slight weather change, adding crews had few problems with a small grass fire reported at Ridgewood and Bonita Streets.
    But conditions were much different for fire crews Saturday as they fought two major grass fires in Shawnee.
    Crews on 12 grass rigs, four tankers and one engine battled the largest grass fire reported about 12:30 p.m. on the north side of westbound I-40 and mile marker?182. ?
    That fire spread fast and burned 500 to 600 acres. During that fire, several livestock had to be set free, Wittman said, although most had been rounded back up by late Monday.
    During that fire, 10 homes were threatened by the wildfire. And while they were spared, some sustained heat damage to siding, Wittman said. An outbuilding and a barn, along with an old, vacant house were destroyed.
    The second fire occurred near the campus of St. Gregory’s University, where flames inched close to a horse barn, which was saved. About 5 acres burned in that blaze.
    And while it appears so far that no occupied homes have been lost to grass fire activity in Pottawatomie County, many people have still be affected by wildfires so efforts to help those in need are ongoing.
    Officials have reported more than 78,330 acres have burned in major fires across the state since Friday, with some of those major fires including nearby Cleveland County and around Luther in Oklahoma County.
    The Salvation Army and the American Red Cross are working to raise funds to help those displaced.
    The Salvation Army is accepting donations through their website: disaster.salvationarmyusa.org. Anyone wishing to donate over the phone may call 1-800-SAL-ARMY.
    Household goods, furniture, clothing are also being accepted through the Salvation Army thrift store in Shawnee. Displaced families will be issued vouchers and then allowed to choose from what is available at the store.
    Page 2 of 3 - The Salvation Army depends on donations from the public to do their charitable works, Shawnee Salvation Army Lt. Philip Canning said.
    “I just want to give a general thank you to the public,” Canning said. “Thank you for your support.”
    “Everything that’s donated for the fire victims, goes to the fire victims,” he added.
    The Red Cross also is accepting donations bottled water and sports drinks to go to volunteer workers and others. These can be dropped off at the Red Cross office at 232 N. Broadway in Shawnee.
    Wittman said area residents also have shown great support to fire crews over the past few days with donations of bottled water showing up for fire crews at Shawnee fire stations.
    “We really appreciate it,” Wittman said.
    Other bottled water drives for firefighters have been ongoing in many areas because of the recent fire activity. Central Oklahoma Community Action Agency in Shawnee is also hosting a bottled water drive for firefighters, with donations made at the Shawnee office being collected for Pottawatomie County firefighters.
    With weather and drought conditions as they are, firefighters will likely remain busy as officials expect hazardous conditions for some time.
    Gary McManus, a climatologist with the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, said fire conditions were made worse by a warm, wet winter and early spring. Vegetation grew rapidly and then dried in the drought.
    "All that green up from the spring, all of that vegetation is just sitting out there as fuel for wildfires," McManus said.
    Lower temperatures — meaning under 100 degrees — and calmer winds helped firefighters Sunday and Monday, but McManus warned that without significant rain, another outbreak was likely.
    "These types of conditions just wait for the right weather pattern," McManus said.
    The extraordinary drought conditions prompted the statewide burn issued by Gov. Mary Fallin, who said the extreme heat and ongoing drought have created conditions very conducive to wildfires.
    “Moving forward, we need the public to be extremely vigilant. Lit cigarettes, flat tires and cars parked in dry grass can quickly become dangerous. Everyone must do their part to help prevent fires and to keep our families and businesses safe from harm,” she said.
    Failure to observe the burn ban may result in criminal prosecution punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000, imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.
    A state of emergency also remains in place for all 77 Oklahoma counties by Fallin due to extreme or exceptional drought conditions.
    And because high temperatures seem to remain, Lynch advises everyone to take precautions for their health as well.
    “We recommend those who can, stay indoors and stay cool,” Lynch said.
    Due to the hot weather, he also encouraged people to check on their elderly neighbors, who are more susceptible to heat-related illness.
    Page 3 of 3 - Watch for updates.
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    The Associated Press contributed to this report.
     
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