Richard Rowe/Reuters

Crews battle Oklahoma wildfire as a thousand forced to flee

Blaze partially contained but conditions are expected to worsen on Tuesday, with 100-degree temperatures, stronger winds

Residents in an Oklahoma community where a wildfire killed one person, burned thousands of acres and destroyed at least six homes returned to survey the damage Monday as firefighters continued to battle the stubborn blaze.

Fire officials said Monday afternoon that the blaze was about 75 percent contained and they are investigating to determine whether any criminal conduct occurred when it was set. A burn ban was not in place at the time.

The fire in Guthrie, about 35 miles north of Oklahoma City, swept through the parched countryside on Sunday, fueled by wind gusts at 31 mph. Flames covered 3,000 to 3,500 acres near Guthrie and throughout Monday, conditions worked against the nearly 20 fire departments battling the blaze, with mid-90s temperatures and 20 mph wind gusts.

Monday evening, forecasters say the fire danger will get worse before it gets better, with the weather expected to stay hot and windy. Temperatures are forecast to reach 100 on Tuesday with daytime wind gusts expected to steadily grow stronger, making conditions even more difficult for firefighters.

Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency Monday for counties throughout Oklahoma and a burn ban for 36 counties mostly in western and south-central Oklahoma. Logan County, where the large wildfire started, is included in the ban. 

The wildfire stoked by high winds and temperatures killed at least one man, who had refused to leave his mobile home, destroyed six houses and forced the evacuation of about 1,000 people, officials said.

Many returned to survey the damage on Monday. Karen Dilley and her sister Lorine Biggs surveyed damage to their parents' smoldering 160 acres. Although their 58-year-old house had been spared firefighters were worried it might still be in danger.

"I hope my mom doesn't have to start over. She's too old for that," Dilley said.

Guthrie Fire Department Chief Eric Harlow said the wildfire broke out Sunday when a controlled burn that began at about 4 p.m. got out of hand. A controlled burn is a fire "intentionally ignited to meet specific land management objectives, such as to reduce flammable fuels, restore ecosystem health, recycle nutrients or prepare an area for new trees or vegetation," according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Fire officials said that the area was not under a burn ban, but pointed out that whoever set the fire would be liable for the cost of any damages, despite the fact that the fire was set legally.

Al Jazeera and wire services 

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