At least 13 wildfires broke out across central and eastern Oklahoma Sunday, forcing a major interstate to close and prompting a local fire chief to request the evacuation of a small town northeast of Oklahoma City.
One of the fires forced the Oklahoma Highway Patrol to close a 13-mile stretch of Interstate 35 in both directions between Guthrie and Mulhall, about 30 to 40 miles north of Oklahoma City, Sunday afternoon. OHP said grass fires were “crossing the interstate” in that portion of Logan County in a message posted to Twitter around 3:30 p.m. CST.
The highway reopened to traffic later in the afternoon after firefighters brought the flames under control.
Just a few miles away, residents of the tiny Logan County town of Meridian and a surrounding 4-square-mile area were asked to evacuate when a wildfire threatened the community Sunday afternoon. The National Weather Service in Norman issued a rare “fire warning” for the area. The evacuation was rescinded early Sunday evening.
Smoke plumes from several other large fires were detected by the weather service’s Doppler radar based in Twin Lakes, Oklahoma, including a third fire in the Guthrie area, as well as fires in rural areas outside of Chickasha and Ada, which are southwest and southeast of Oklahoma City, respectively.
The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management said wildfires were reported Sunday in Logan, Pittsburg, Bryan, Grady, Love, Okmulgee, Pontotoc, Pushmataha and Washington counties. The agency said two National Guard helicopters were dispatched to the Logan County fires, and another was sent to the Ram Mountain fire in Pittsburg County.
The National Weather Service had issued red flag warnings for Sunday, indicating that the combination of strong winds and low relative humidity would promote rapid spread of any fires that started.
Those conditions indeed materalized, with relative humidity falling as low as 12 percent in the Oklahoma City area Sunday afternoon while winds gusted as high as 40 mph. Temperatures topped out at 70 degrees in Oklahoma City, 20 degrees above average for Jan. 18.
The U.S. Drought Monitor says parts of central Oklahoma are in a moderate drought, with more severe drought conditions just to the west and drought-free conditions over most of eastern Oklahoma.
Winds diminished quickly Sunday evening. Monday is expected to be warm and dry, but not nearly as windy as Sunday. Cooler weather is expected later this week along with a chance of light rain Thursday.
Wildfires are not uncommon in Oklahoma, particularly during times of drought or when grass goes dormant in the winter. Fires broke out across parts of the state around the same time last year. An extreme drought in 2012 contributed to a spate of destructive fires that August, destroying hundreds of homes and causing at least $55 million in damage in Creek County, between Oklahoma City and Tulsa.