Woods County wildfire burns more than 600 square miles in Oklahoma, Kansas
ALVA — A wildfire continued to rage across more than 600 square miles in Oklahoma and Kansas on Thursday, destroying homes and threatening towns in its path.
Although lighter winds on Thursday afternoon gave crews a chance to try to contain the blaze, strong winds and critical fire danger conditions are expected to return to the state on Friday.
At 10:30 a.m. Thursday, the blaze covered about 140,000 acres in Oklahoma and 257,000 acres in Kansas, said Tulsa Fire Department Capt. Stan May. May said more than 100 firefighters from several fire departments were battling the blaze Thursday morning.
Officials didn't provide an estimated size of the fire Thursday afternoon, but May, who was acting as a spokesman for Woods County Emergency Management, said lighter winds meant the blaze didn't spread as quickly.
“It's given us a chance to catch up on this thing," May said.
Although Thursday's calmer winds provided some relief, May said officials expected the fire to spread quickly as winds picked back up overnight.
Officials think the fire began just north of Camp Houston, a rural community 25 miles west of Alva. The blaze spread quickly throughout the day Wednesday and through Wednesday night and Thursday morning, driven by winds up to 50 mph and warm, dry conditions.
Wednesday, the blaze came close to Medicine Lodge, Kan., destroying two homes on the outskirts of the community of about 2,000 residents. Voluntary evacuation orders issued there earlier were lifted Thursday afternoon. Voluntary evacuations also were sought for the small towns of Sun City and Lake City.
Medicine Lodge Memorial Hospital was evacuated, sending 12 patients to a nursing home and two others to a nearby hospital. The hospital kept its emergency room open and treated one firefighter and another patient for smoke inhalation.
Strong winds carried smoke from the fire as far as St. Louis and parts of southern Illinois, more than 500 miles northeast, the National Weather Service's St. Louis office reported.
Forecasters are predicting critical fire danger on Friday as strong winds and warm, dry conditions will return to much of the state. A fire weather watch is in effect for much of central and western Oklahoma from Friday afternoon through Friday evening.
But Saturday could bring relief, with calmer winds and chances for rain in the forecast. Forecasters are predicting good chances for rain and possible thunderstorms after 7 p.m. Saturday.
Contributing: The Associated Press