LUTHER, Okla. – While residents of one Oklahoma town sifted through their charred belongings Saturday to salvage what they could after a roaring wildfire that may have been deliberately set, residents in several other towns were being ordered to evacuate their homes.
The fire near Luther, about 25 miles northeast of Oklahoma City, destroyed nearly five dozen homes and other buildings before firefighters were able to gain some measure of control Saturday.
The Luther fire was one of at least 10 burning Saturday in Oklahoma, where a severe drought has parched the landscape.
The fires include a large one in Creek County, in northeastern Oklahoma, that officials said had claimed about 78 square miles, and another about 35 miles to the west in Payne County. Emergency management officials ordered residents of Mannford, in Creek County; Glencoe, in Payne County; Drumright, in Lincoln County; Oak Grove, in Pawnee County; and Quinton, in Pittsburg County, to leave their homes, according to Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Keli Cain.
Cain said no serious injuries had been reported.
A fire near the Tom Steed Reservoir in Kiowa County was also causing water delivery problems to Altus, in neighboring Jackson County, Cain said.
Authorities suspect the fire near Luther may have been intentionally set, while the cause of the others was undetermined. The Oklahoma County sheriff’s department said it was looking for someone in a black pickup truck who was seen throwing newspapers out a window after setting them ablaze.
Department spokeswoman Mary Myers said there were “no arrests, no suspects” but deputies were “working around the clock” to find anyone responsible.
Oklahoma County sheriff’s deputies arrested a man Saturday suspected of stealing a flat-screen television from an evacuated home in Luther. The department said in a news release that a witness called 911 to report seeing the man run out of the home, then followed the suspect’s car until a deputy arrived and pulled it over.
The department said the man admitted taking the television, and he was being held Saturday night on complaints of burglary and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Gov. Mary Fallin toured Luther on Saturday, hugging residents whose homes and belongings were destroyed by the fire that swept through treetops on 24 mph winds.
“It’s heartbreaking to see families that have lost so much,” Fallin said after talking with some who were milling around the still-smoking debris that had been their homes. “I gave them a hug, told them I was sorry.”
The fire burned just over four square miles, including an area near the Turner Turnpike, which carries Interstate 44 between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The superhighway was briefly closed Friday and traffic was diverted onto old Route 66, the cross-country highway that brought Luther a glimmer of life before the interstate bypassing the town was built in the 1950s.