Date: 4/10/2009

SEAN MURPHY
Associated Press Writer

MIDWEST CITY, Okla. (AP) — Firefighters mopped up hot spots Friday from wind-driven wildfires that injured at least 34 people in western and central Oklahoma and destroyed more than 100 homes.

Three people were killed across the state line in Texas.

The fires began Thursday afternoon along the Interstate 35, the main north-south highway through central Oklahoma. They continued to burn past nightfall, fueled by ferocious winds and an abundance of dry, early spring grass and brush. But lighter winds in the region made things easier for firefighters Friday in both states.

“We have in excess of 100 homes that have been destroyed statewide,” Emergency Management Director Albert Ashwood said Friday morning. Officials said the Midwest City fire apparently started at a wrecker service, but the exact cause of it and other fires was still under investigation.

Interstate 35 was back open Friday after being closed for several hours in various locations because of the fires.

Gov. Brad Henry declared a state of emergency for 31 central and southern Oklahoma communities, which allows state agencies to speed the delivery of needed resources.

Residents who were evacuated while the fires raged were allowed to return home. For Sammetra Christmon of Midwest City, there was only a blackened, smoking ruin where her home had been.

“The memories, the photos, this is the house I have worked all my life for,” she said Friday as she and her family picked through the smoldering debris. Her 9-year-old daughter was taking it hard.

“She’s devastated, just in tears this morning,” Christmon said. “This is the only house she’s ever known.”

Water-dropping helicopters couldn’t assist the ground effort Thursday because of winds that gusted to more than 60 mph in some areas.

“Anytime you have high winds and low humidity it’s just the perfect storm for wildfires, and that’s what’s happening here,” Ashwood said.

In northern Texas, firefighters blaze raced across thousands of parched acres Thursday, overrunning the towns of Sunset and Stoneburg and forcing the temporary evacuations in several others.

Montague County Sheriff Paul Cunningham said Friday that a woman died, possibly from a heart attack, after calling for an ambulance Thursday in a fire near Bowie on Thursday.

Two other deaths were reported near Montague, about 80 miles northwest of Dallas. WFAA-TV said the victims were former WFAA reporter Matt Quinn and his wife, Cathy. Their son was injured and was in fair condition at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, the station reported.

The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management said a firefighter helping battle a blaze in Lincoln County, northeast of Oklahoma City, was hospitalized with burns and someone was severely injured after losing control of a vehicle on a smoke-covered road in Stephens County in southern Oklahoma.

The other injuries ranged from minor to moderate, officials said.

At the Midwest City Community Center, where about 75 residents flocked to after flames threatened their homes, Kanisha Busby waited for her parents to arrive. Their home, where she grew up, was destroyed but nobody was hurt.

“It’s hard, but all that stuff is material things that can be replaced; lives can’t be replaced,” Busby said. Residents were given sufficient warning to evacuate, and her father also managed to save his dog, she said.

Susan Staggs, who lives near Midwest City, said Friday that she and her neighbors who gathered at an evacuation point Thursday night could see the glow of flames, not knowing if their homes were being engulfed.

“After dark you could just see the flames crossing the road,” she said. “I had two cats in my house and my horse and goats were still there.” Her home was spared, it turned out, because a pile of gravel and dirt from her neighbor’s driveway project served as a firebreak. But the neighbor’s home was lost.

___

Associated Press writers Murray Evans in Oklahoma City, Angela K. Brown in Fort Worth, Texas, and Betsy Blaney in Lubbock, Texas, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

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