Howling wind that had gusted to more than 50 mph grounded air-based firefighting efforts in Oklahoma and drove blazes that scorched neighborhoods like "a war zone," Midwest City Police Chief Brandon Clabes said.
A fire ignited by a broken natural gas line blackened vehicles and destroyed about 25 homes in this suburb southeast of Oklahoma City, Clabes said.
"The wind is the biggest issue, because we can’t get ahead of the fires," Midwest City Fire Marshal Jerry Lojka said. The National Weather Service said wind gusts still topped 40 mph by Thursday evening.
Oklahoma County Sheriff John Wetsel said an estimated 100 homes or other structures were damaged or destroyed in northeast Oklahoma County, which includes Midwest City.
In Lincoln County, Okla., a firefighter suffered major burns and was taken to an Oklahoma City hospital, Chandler Emergency Management Director Larry Hicks said.
Hicks said some crews already helping with blazes were being redirected because "there are fires everywhere."
"We’ve got fires breaking out where they’ve already been put out," he said.
Tricia Smith, who fled her home in Midwest City, said the fire engulfed parts of her neighborhood.
"We thought we were safe, but in 30 minutes the fire went everywhere," she said.
Most of the state was under high-wind warnings and red-flag warnings, which indicate extreme fire danger, and the eastern half of the state was under a tornado watch.
Near Lindsay, about 55 miles south of Oklahoma City, 12 homes were destroyed and 20 others were being threatened, said Eric Johnson, city manager in nearby Purcell. At least six homes and one church were destroyed in Carter County, and the number of destroyed properties was expected to rise, said Chester Agan, county assistant emergency management director.
Interstate 35, the state’s main north-south highway, was closed in Carter County as well as Payne County, where at least 12 agencies were battling a blaze estimated to be five to six miles wide, said Kirk Mittlestet, emergency management director for Stillwater. Wind-whipped grass fires in western Oklahoma also closed state Highway 152.
In Texas, firefighters near the Oklahoma state line battled a nearly 8-square-mile wildfire near Electra that destroyed two commercial buildings, according to the Texas Forest Service. About 800 people were evacuated but were allowed to return by evening as the fire was contained, authorities said.