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Oklahoma wildfire brought under control as rain looms in the forecast

WOODWARD — After a day of calmer winds and milder temperatures, firefighters were able to gain control Friday of a wildfire that had been raging for three days.

The fire, which forestry officials have dubbed the 350 Complex, has scorched nearly 90 square miles in Woodward and Harper counties and caused an estimated $1 million in private property damage, emergency management officials said Friday.

The fire began Tuesday afternoon, when arcing power lines came in contact with dry grass and leaves, starting several small blazes. The smaller fires had merged into a single wildfire that, by Friday, covered 57,440 acres.

On Friday, 224 firefighters from Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, Texas and Louisiana were battling the blaze. Oklahoma officials called in a fire management team from Texas A&M University to assist with coordinating the response to the fire.

Melanie Karnes, a spokeswoman for the Texas A&M management team, said firefighters had kept the blaze contained Friday. The fire wasn't threatening any populated areas Friday afternoon, she said.

Earlier in the week, firefighters had struggled to beat back the blaze in rugged canyons along the Cimarron River, where fire trucks couldn't go. Air crews dropped water from planes to try to suppress the fire, and by Friday afternoon, that portion of the fire was under control, Karnes said.

Matt Lehenbauer, emergency management director for Woodward County, said firefighters benefited from favorable weather Friday, allowing them to keep the fire contained and begin mopping up areas where blazes had sprung up.

Officially, forestry officials say the fire is only 20 percent contained, but Lehenbauer expected that number to go up as officials conducted more assessments Friday night.

Although the fire danger is expected to remain high through the weekend, forecasters are predicting chances for rain Sunday.

“That will save us about a week's worth of work,” Lehenbauer said.

So far, the fire has caused an estimated $300,000 in public utility damage and $1 million in private property damage, Lehenbauer said. Those figures come from preliminary assessments, Lehenbauer said, and they're both expected to go up.

Wednesday, Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency in 10 counties affected by wildfires: Alfalfa, Blaine, Creek, Dewey, Garfield, Grant, Harper, Logan, Major and Woodward. Fallin issued a similar declaration last week for Woods County. Both declarations remain in effect for 30 days.

Forecasters are predicting near critical fire danger through Monday across central and western Oklahoma. The risk of fires is expected to drop considerably early next week, when cooler weather and chances for rain move into the area. Forecasters predict 40 to 60 percent chances for rain across northwestern Oklahoma on Sunday and Monday.

Silas Allen

Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri. Read more ›