The Latest: Wildfires prompt Oklahoma emergency declaration

Pictures of fire near exit 209 on I-70 on Monday. (Courtesy: Karie Younger)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Latest on wildfires burning across the country’s midsection (all times local):

9:20 p.m.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has declared a state of emergency in 22 counties due to wildfires.

The order issued Tuesday allows state agencies to make emergency purchases needed to deliver necessary resources to local jurisdictions and is the first step toward possibly seeking federal assistance.

Fallin’s office said in a news release that up to 465 square miles have burned in Beaver, Harper and Woodward counties in northwestern Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Panhandle. The release says dangerous fire conditions are expected to continue through Wednesday. Counties included in the declaration range from the Panhandle across the northern tier of the state from northwestern to northeastern Oklahoma.

The order is in effect for 30 days and can be amended to include additional counties, if necessary.

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6:30 p.m.

Officials say one of three wildfires in the Texas Panhandle is now 100 percent contained.

The Texas A&M Forest Service says a fire measuring about 46 square miles near Amarillo was fully contained by late Tuesday afternoon.

Another fire that’s burned more than 492 square miles in the northeast corner of the Panhandle near the Oklahoma border is 50 percent contained. It’s destroyed two homes.

A third wildfire south in Gray County and measuring nearly 145 square miles is 25 percent contained.

Phillip Truitt, a spokesman for the Texas A&M Forest Service, says his agency has confirmed three firefighters were injured battling the blazes. All have been released from hospitals.

Truitt says the death toll in Texas remains at four: three deaths in Gray County and one in Hemphill County.

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4:35 p.m.

A forecaster says conditions should improve a bit in the coming days for firefighters battling blazes in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and Colorado.

Bill Bunting, the forecast operations chief at the Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma, said the powerful wind gusts that have helped the wildfires spread quickly will die down to around 10 to 20 mph on Wednesday. He says temperatures should top off in the 70s.

Bunting says cold and rainy weather would be ideal, but the region isn’t going to get it.

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4:15 p.m.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is urging people not to burn anything outside or have barbeques because of the dangers of fires across the state.

Brownback noted during a news conference Tuesday that 98 percent of the state is under a warning for extreme fire danger.

Kansas officials say about 625 square miles of land in the state has burned and they are worried that more wildfires might ignite Wednesday.

Brownback also urged people in the nine counties where fires are burning not to travel if they can avoid it. State officials don’t have any damage estimates yet, but Brownback says he’s worried there could be significant losses of livestock.

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3:10 p.m.

Authorities say an Oklahoma woman had a fatal heart attack while trying to save her farm from a wildfire, raising the four-state wildfire death toll to six.

Harper County Emergency Management Director Dale Spradlin says the 63-year-old woman was fighting the fire Monday with her husband on their farm near Buffalo when she suffered an apparent heart attack.

The woman’s name wasn’t released.

Spradlin estimates that the fire has burned just more than 155 square miles. A separate blaze has burned an estimated 390 square miles in neighboring Beaver County and about 550 square miles across the state border in Clark County, Kansas.

Authorities also blame wildfires for the deaths of four people in Texas and one in Kansas.

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2:25 p.m.

Oklahoma authorities have lifted evacuation orders pertaining to the wildfires in the state.

The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management said Tuesday orders were lifted for parts of Woodward, Harper and Beaver counties and that it doesn’t know of any other evacuation orders still in place in the state.

Oklahoma Forestry Commission fire management chief Mark Goeller says the largest fire burned about 390 square miles in Beaver County. The same fire scorched about 550 square miles across the border in Clark County, Kansas.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation reports that U.S. Highway 283 and 183 in Beaver County were closed Tuesday because of smoke from fires in the area.

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2:15 p.m.

Gov. Sam Brownback says Kansas has asked Wyoming and South Dakota for equipment to help fight wildfires that have burned hundreds of square miles of land in his state.

Brownback told reporters Tuesday that 10 communities in the state saw residents evacuated at least temporarily Monday and Tuesday as fires burned about 625 square miles.

Most the area burned was in Clark County, in southern Kansas. But between 10,000 and 12,000 people left their homes in Reno County because of a fire north of Hutchinson, which is about 40 miles northwest of Wichita.

Brownback says Kansas is asking Wyoming to send helicopters for dropping water and South Dakota to send communications equipment.

He’s says he’s concerned that the dry, windy conditions will continue for another day or two and could return later in the spring.

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2 p.m.

Officials say the largest of three wildfires in the Texas Panhandle is now 50 percent contained.

The Texas A&M Forest Service said earlier Tuesday that the fire in the northeast corner of the Panhandle near the Oklahoma border was only about 5 percent contained. But it says firefighters have since broadened their containment, aided in part by weaker winds.

Fire officials say the wildfire is much larger than originally thought. They say it’s burned about 460 square miles, up from earlier estimates of 156 square miles.

It’s one of the three wildfires in the Panhandle, with one just south in Gray County and another to the west near Amarillo. Wildfires are also burning in parts of Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado.

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12:50 p.m.

Authorities say one of the three wildfires in the Texas Panhandle is about three times larger than they had thought.

Phillip Truitt, a spokesman for the Texas A&M Forest Service, says the fire in the northeast corner of the Panhandle near the Oklahoma border has burned about 460 square miles of land, not the 156 square miles officials estimated earlier Tuesday.

He says authorities were finally able to fly over the area to get a more accurate sense of the damage.

The fire is only about 5 percent contained but the winds have died down since Monday.

Local officials estimate that a separate fire to the south has burned about 100,000 acres, or roughly 156 square miles. But Truitt says the state Forest Service hasn’t yet given its own assessment.

A third, smaller fire near Amarillo was about 75 percent contained.

Authorities say four people have died in the two larger wildfires.

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11:50 a.m.

Authorities say about 70 structures have been damaged or destroyed in Kansas as crews battle wildfires that have burned about 625 square miles in the state.

The State Emergency Operations Center said Tuesday that at least 30 homes are destroyed in Reno County, with the possibility that more are damaged. Crews have been unable to assess damages because of the fire in the area about 40 miles northwest of Wichita.

The heaviest damage has been in Clark County on the state’s southern border with Oklahoma, where about 545 square miles have burned. About 30 structures and bridges in the county have been damaged.

In the western part of the state, seven homes in Ford County, two homes in Rooks County and a bridge in Meade County were destroyed.

Fires also are burning in Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado.

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11:40 a.m.

Authorities say wildfires in the Texas Panhandle have claimed another life, bringing the four-state death count from wildfires to five.

Hemphill County Judge George Briant said Tuesday that the fourth death in the Texas Panhandle was caused by a blaze near the Oklahoma border that has burned 156 square miles of land. That fire was only about 5 percent contained Tuesday morning.

Authorities said earlier Tuesday that three ranch hands were killed by another fire in the Panhandle. Gray County emergency management coordinator Sandi Martin identified the three as Emmert Sloan, Cody Crockett and Sydney Wallace. She says Crockett and Wallace were in their early 20s and Sloan’s age was not known.

The fifth death was that of an Oklahoma truck driver who was killed by smoke inhalation on a highway in southern Kansas.

The fires in Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado have driven thousands of people from their homes and scorched hundreds of square miles of land.

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10:30 a.m.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback says the state faces a few more days of dry, windy weather that has made battling wildfires more difficult.

Brownback said Tuesday that Kansas is seeing dry conditions across the state. He made his comments in a video posted on the state Division of Emergency Management’s Facebook page.

Between 10,000 and 12,000 people left their homes Monday night in Reno County in central Kansas. Hundreds of other people were evacuated in other counties as fires burned 625 square miles.

Brownback said good weather last year caused grasses to grow, creating tinder when the weather became dry and windy.

He said in such weather, firefighters suppress blazes, only to see the wind switch directions and have fires break out again.

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10:20 a.m.

Firefighters have lost some ground against a grass fire burning on the plains of northeastern Colorado.

The fire in rural Logan County near the Nebraska border was considered 90 percent contained on Monday evening, but managers on Tuesday revised that figure to 50 percent after some flare ups.

The fire has burned more than 45 square miles and destroyed three homes.

An unknown number of nearby residents have been warned to be ready to evacuate if the fire spreads toward them. The warnings were sent to 900 telephone numbers.

Three schools were evacuated because of the fire on Monday but no one took advantage of a Red Cross shelter set up for potential evacuees.

Wildfires are also burning in Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma and have killed at least four people.

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9:50 a.m.

Authorities say a wildfire has killed an Oklahoma truck driver in Kansas.

The Kansas Highway Patrol says 39-year-old Corey Holt, of Oklahoma City, jackknifed Monday while trying to back up his tractor-trailer on highway 34 in Clark County because of poor visibility and dust from the fires. The patrol says he succumbed to smoke when he got out of his vehicle.

Clark County, which is on Kansas’ southern border with Oklahoma, is the hardest hit by wildfires that have consumed an estimated 625 square miles in the state. State officials say 545 square miles of the burned land was in the county.

Wildfires are also burning in Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas, where a blaze killed three ranch hands on Monday.

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9:35 a.m.

Authorities say a wildfire killed three ranch hands in the Texas Panhandle who were trying to usher cattle away from the flames.

Gray County Judge Richard Peet said Tuesday that the two men and the woman were killed by a wildfire that flared Monday afternoon.

Peet, the county’s top administrator, says one of the three apparently died of smoke inhalation late Monday while the other two suffered severe burns and died while being taken to hospitals. Peet says winds of more than 55 mph fanned the flames.

The Gray County fire was separate from one to the west near Amarillo and from another much larger one just to the north near the Oklahoma border that has burned 156 square miles of land.

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8:35 a.m.

Authorities say wildfires have burned about 625 square miles in Kansas, damaging dozens of structures and forcing thousands to evacuate.

Kansas Department of Emergency Management Katie Horner says 10,000 to 12,000 people voluntarily evacuated their homes Monday night in Reno County. She says 66 people were in shelters Tuesday in Hutchinson as crews continued fighting fires that started over the weekend.

The largest of the blazes was burning in rural southwest Kansas’ Clark County, where about 545 square miles has burned. Horner says 30 structures have been damaged, and bridges have been compromised. That fire is now 61 percent contained.

Evacuations also have been ordered in Russell, and Comanche counties.

Horner says all but four of the state’s 105 counties are under red-flag warnings of critical wildfire conditions.

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8:25 a.m.

Authorities say as many as four firefighters have been hurt battling fires in the Texas Panhandle.

Texas A&M Forest Service spokesman Phillip Truitt says the four were hurt Monday as one fire intensified near Amarillo and another larger one spread in the far northeast corner of the Panhandle near the Oklahoma border.

Truitt said Tuesday that one of the firefighters injured worked for Pantex, the nuclear facility northeast of Amarillo, and the other for a volunteer department in the region. He provided no details on the nature of their injuries.

It was not immediately clear how the other firefighters were hurt or the extent of their injuries.

Truitt says the larger fire covers some 156 square miles near the Oklahoma border.

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6:40 a.m.

Wildfires burning in Colorado, Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma have forced evacuations and destroyed several buildings.

A pair of fires in the Texas Panhandle burned more than 100 square miles. One of the blazes near Amarillo threatened about 150 homes.

In Colorado, a fire in rural Logan County burned more than 45 square miles, forced the evacuation of three schools and threatened as many as 900 homes. The Logan County Emergency Management Office said at least four structures, including three homes, were destroyed.

In Kansas, wind-blown fires, some originating in Oklahoma, forced the evacuations of several small towns and the closure of some roads, including a couple of short stretches of Interstate 70. Crews used two Black Hawk helicopters Monday to dump water on some of the Kansas fires.