More than 100 large wildfires in U.S. as new blazes erupt

Smoke rises over a hillside on fire in Fairfield, California, the U.S., August 10, 2018, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. Erika Bjork/Twitter/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Six large new wildfires erupted in the United States, pushing the number of major active blazes nationwide to over 100, with more expected to break out sparked by lightning strikes on bone-dry terrain, authorities said on Saturday.

More than 30,000 personnel, including firefighters from across the United States and nearly 140 from Australia and New Zealand, were battling the blazes that have consumed more than 1.6 million acres (648,000 hectares), according to the National Interagency Coordination Center.

“We are expecting that there will be more fire-starts today,” Jeremy Grams, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma, said in an interview on Saturday.

FILE PHOTO: A still frame taken from a timelapse video sourced from social media dated August 6, 2018 shows the Holy Fire as seen from Rancho Santa Magarita, California, U.S. ARTHUR WHITING/via REUTERS

FILE PHOTO: A still frame taken from a timelapse video sourced from social media dated August 6, 2018, shows the Holy Fire as seen from Rancho Santa Magarita, California, U.S. ARTHUR WHITING/via REUTERS

He said dry thunderstorms, which produce lightning but little rain, are expected for parts of the Rocky Mountain region, while the U.S. northwest has critical fire weather conditions that include strong winds and low relative humidity.

Firefighters were battling another day of extremely hot temperatures and strong winds on Saturday, the National Interagency Coordination Center said.

The fires have scorched states from Washington to New Mexico, with California among the hardest hit.

A mechanic helping to fight the Carr Fire near Redding in northern California was killed in a car crash on Thursday, the eighth person to die in that conflagration.

The 190,873-acre (77,243-hectare) Carr Fire has destroyed nearly 1,100 homes.

About 100 miles (160 km) southwest of the Carr Fire, about 3,500 firefighters are battling the Mendocino Complex Fire, which has burned 328,226 acres (132,828 hectares) as of Saturday and was the largest fire on record in California.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Richard Borsuk)

Greek PM visits wildfire-stricken town after criticism

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras speaks with a firefighter officer as he visits the village of Mati, following a wildfire near Athens, Greece, July 30, 2018. Greek Prime Minister's Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

By Costas Pitas and Renee Maltezou

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met survivors of a wildfire that killed at least 91 people during his first visit to the town of Mati on Monday, after facing criticism for the government’s response to the blaze.

Fires began a week ago in the coastal resort, which is 30 km (17 miles) east of Athens, and Tsipras has been attacked by opposition parties for the government’s handling of the disaster, which also left dozens injured.

Tsipras has accepted full political responsibility and pledged a series of changes, including a crackdown on illegal and haphazard construction that is thought to have worsened the blaze.

FILE PHOTO: A burnt house is seen following a wildfire in the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece, July 28, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A burnt house is seen following a wildfire in the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece, July 28, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas/File Photo

He spent around an hour in the area and met locals, firefighters and police officers, his office said in a statement.

“Today I visited the place of tragedy,” Tsipras tweeted.

“(I have) untold grief but also immense respect for those who fought an uneven battle with the flames,” he said.

A total of 25 people are still missing and 28 bodies have yet to be identified, the fire brigade said on Sunday.

Tsipras’ visit comes a week after the disaster and aides said that he had been busy coordinating the response from Athens. His coalition partner went to Mati on Thursday and was shouted at by survivors.

As rescue crews still hunt for those unaccounted for, residents were trying to salvage what they can from the disaster.

“I can’t believe that it took a lifetime to build this and within 10 minutes nothing was left,” 49-year old Konstantinos Gkikas told Reuters. “It’s unbelievable.”

Out of the nearly 2,600 buildings inspected in fire-stricken areas so far, half are intact, 25 percent need to be demolished and the rest can be repaired, the infrastructure ministry said on Monday.

A Greek citizen filed a lawsuit on Monday against the government, the municipal and regional authorities and anybody else found to be involved in the disaster.

Greeks were expected to gather outside parliament to light candles in memory of those who lost their lives later on Monday.

(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou and Reuters Television; Writing by Costas Pitas; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Japan’s heat wave drives up food prices, prison inmate dies

A woman uses a parasol on the street during a heatwave in Tokyo, Japan July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

TOKYO (Reuters) – Vegetable prices in Japan are spiking as much as 65 percent in the grip of a grueling heat wave, which drove temperatures on Wednesday to records in some areas hit by flooding and landslides, hampering clean-up and recovery efforts.

As many as 65 people died in the week to July 22, up from 12 the previous week, government figures show, while a prisoner in his forties died of a heat stroke in central Miyoshi city, amid what medical experts called an “unprecedented” heat wave.

An agriculture ministry official in Tokyo, the capital, warned against “pretty severe price moves” for vegetables if predictions of more weeks of hot weather held up, resulting in less rain than usual.

“It’s up to the weather how prices will move from here,” the official said. “But the Japan Meteorological Agency has predicted it will remain hot for a few more weeks, and that we will have less rain than the average.”

The most recent data showed the wholesale price of cabbage was 129 yen ($1.16) per kg in Tokyo on Monday, the ministry said, for example, an increase of 65 percent over the average late-July price of the past five years.

Temperatures in Japan’s western cities of Yamaguchi and Akiotacho reached record highs of 38.8 Celsius (101.8 Fahrenheit) and 38.6 C (101.5 F), respectively, on Wednesday afternoon.

In Takahashi, another western city and one of the areas hit hardest by this month’s flooding, the mercury reached 38.7 C (101.7 F), just 0.3 degrees off an all-time high.

In Miyoshi, where the prisoner died after a heat stroke, the temperature on the floor of his cell was 34 degrees C (93 F) shortly before 7 a.m. on Tuesday. The room had no air-conditioning, like most in the prison.

Authorities who found him unresponsive in his cell sent him to a hospital outside the prison, but he was soon pronounced dead, a prison official said.

“It is truly regrettable that an inmate lost his life,” Kiyoshi Kageyama, head of the prison, said in a statement. “We will do our utmost in maintaining (prisoners’) health, including taking anti-heat stroke steps.”

On the Tokyo stock market, shares in companies expected to benefit from a hot summer, such as ice-cream makers, have risen in recent trade.

Shares in Imuraya Group, whose subsidiary sells popular vanilla and red-bean ice cream, were up nearly 10 percent on the month, while Ishigaki Foods, which sells barley tea, surged 50 percent over the same period.

Kimono-clad women using sun umbrellas pause on a street during a heatwave in Tokyo, Japan July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Kimono-clad women using sun umbrellas pause on a street during a heatwave in Tokyo, Japan July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

In neighboring South Korea, the unremitting heat has killed at least 14 people this year, the Korea Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention said.

The heat wave was at the level of a “special disaster”, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Tuesday, as electricity use surged and vegetable prices rose.

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo and Jeongmin Kim in SEOUL; Additional reporting by Ritsuko Ando and Aaron Sheldrick in TOKYO; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Civilian deaths in Afghanistan hit record as suicide attacks surge

Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack in Jalalabad city, Afghanistan July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Parwiz

By James Mackenzie

KABUL (Reuters) – The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan reached a record in the first half of the year, despite last month’s ceasefire, with a surge in suicide attacks claimed by Islamic State, the United Nations said on Sunday.

Deaths rose 1 percent to 1,692, although injuries dropped 5 percent to 3,430, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said in its latest civilian casualty report. Overall civilian casualties were down 3 percent.

Hopes that peace may one day be agreed in Afghanistan were raised last month by a three-day truce over the Eid al-Fitr holiday which saw unprecedented scenes of Taliban fighters mingling with security forces in Kabul and other cities.

“The brief ceasefire demonstrated that the fighting can be stopped and that Afghan civilians no longer need to bear the brunt of the war,” Tadamichi Yamamoto, the senior U.N. official in Afghanistan said in a statement.

But with heavy fighting seen across the country during the first half the year and repeated suicide attacks in Kabul and major provincial cities like Jalalabad, the report underlines the dire security situation facing Afghanistan.

It also pointed to increased activity by Islamic State, reflected in a doubling in casualties in Nangarhar, the eastern province whose capital is Jalalabad, where the militant group has conducted a series of attacks over recent months.

MINISTRY ATTACKED

The main causes of casualties were ground engagements between security forces and militants, roadside bombs, as well as suicide and other so-called complex attacks, which caused 22 percent more casualties than in the same period last year.

Hundreds of civilians were killed in attacks on targets as diverse as Shi’ite shrines, offices of government ministries and aid groups, sports events and voter registration stations.

On Sunday, the day the report was issued, at least seven people were killed and more than 15 wounded by a suicide attack as staff at a government ministry were going home.

The report said two thirds of civilian casualties were caused by anti-government forces, mainly the Taliban and Islamic State.

Fifty-two percent of the casualties from suicide and complex attacks were attributed to Islamic State, often known as Daesh, while 40 percent were attributed to the Taliban.

The Taliban, who say they take great care to avoid civilian casualties, issued a statement rejecting the report as “one sided” and accused UNAMA of working in close coordination with U.S. authorities to push propaganda against them.

With parliamentary elections scheduled for October, there is concern about more violence as polling day approaches.

The Taliban, fighting to restore their version of strict Islamic law, have rejected President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of peace talks, demanding that foreign forces leave Afghanistan.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Edwina Gibbs, Robert Birsel and Keith Weir)

Malta detains second charity ship as death toll at sea rises

Claus-Peter Reisch, the captain of the charity ship MV Lifeline, leaves the court after an arraignment on charges related to improper ship registration at the Courts of Justice in Valletta, Malta July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

By Chris Scicluna

VALLETTA (Reuters) – For the second time in a week, Malta on Monday detained a humanitarian vessel that normally rescues boat migrants off the coast of Libya, where two shipwrecks have claimed the lives of as many as 200 people in recent days.

The Sea Watch 3 vessel, operated by a German charity, requested to leave port after undergoing maintenance and the port authority refused, a Sea Watch spokeswoman said. The port authorities said only that the vessel’s status was under review.

Another humanitarian ship, Lifeline, was detained last week after Malta for the first time in years opened its port to a large number of migrants, some 230, when Italy refused it safe haven. A new Italian government including the League, a far right anti-immigrant party, took power last month and has shut Italian ports to charity ships carrying migrants.

Lifeline’s captain attended a court hearing in Malta on Monday in which the prosecutor said the ship was not properly registered. The groups operating both ships deny any wrongdoing.

“They are creating the conditions to make it impossible for non-governmental groups to operate at sea,” Sea Watch’s Giorgia Linardi said. “Against this background, people are dying and no one seems to care.”

In two separate incidents, as many as 204 migrants have drowned since Friday after being packed into unsafe vessels by smugglers, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has said. The incidents raised the toll for this year above 1,000 people lost at sea.

The humanitarian groups say they are being wrongly targeted by governments — Malta and Italy — that are seeking to stem migrant arrivals to Europe, and they say the policy spearheaded by the new Italian government is causing deaths.

Italy’s far-right interior minister says the rescue ships are colluding with Libyan smugglers, a charge never proven in court and denied by the rescuers. Malta said last week it would no longer provide logistical support to the vessels under the suspicion they were acting illegally.

Crew members of NGO Sea-Watch protest outside the Courts of Justice during the arraignment of Claus-Peter Reisch, the captain of the charity ship MV Lifeline in Valletta, Malta July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

Crew members of NGO Sea-Watch protest outside the Courts of Justice during the arraignment of Claus-Peter Reisch, the captain of the charity ship MV Lifeline in Valletta, Malta July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

The flow of migrants into Europe has abated since a 2015 peak, with the number attempting the dangerous sea crossing from North Africa to Italy falling to tens of thousands from hundreds of thousands. The other main route, from Turkey to Greece, used by more than a million people in 2015, was shut two years ago.

But the journey by land through the Sahara and then across the Mediterranean remains world’s deadliest migration route, and as polarizing as ever in European politics. In addition to Italy, anti-immigrant parties are now firmly entrenched in the ex-Communist states of central Europe and won seats in the German parliament for the first time since the 1940s last year.

In Germany, the issue threatens to bring down Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition.

SPAIN

A humanitarian boat run by Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms is heading for Spain carrying 59 migrants after Italy and Malta refused it a port, the third such case in less than a month.

During a hearing on Monday, Malta police inspector Mario Haber questioned whether the Lifeline ship, which says it operates under a Dutch flag, should have been registered as a yacht instead of a commercial vessel.

“The yacht is not registered with the Netherlands. It is registered with a Dutch yacht club but it isn’t the flag state,” Haber said. The court appointed “experts” to board the ship and inspect its contents, including its computers, with the prosecution saying it could not rule out charges.

Magistrate Joe Mifsud set bail at 10,000 euros for Lifeline captain Claus-Peter Reisch, adding that he must stay on his ship and cannot leave the small island state. Another hearing will be held on Thursday.

“What kind of world are we living in when sea rescuers are criminalized?” Reisch said in a statement before the hearing.

(Additional reporting by Steve Scherer in Rome; Writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Peter Graff)

Spain’s population grows for second straight year due to immigration

FILE PHOTO: The border fence separating Spain's northern enclave Ceuta and Morocco is seen from Ceuta, Spain, June 22, 2018. REUTERS/Juan Medina/File Photo

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s population rose for the second straight year in 2017, after having fallen between 2012 and 2015 in the midst of an economic downturn, as an increase in foreigners offset a fall in the number of Spaniards, official data showed on Monday.

The figures come as Europe grapples with a rising influx of migrants, mostly from north Africa and war-torn countries such as Syria, after Mediterranean arrivals spiked in 2015. Sixteen EU leaders met for emergency talks in Brussels on Sunday to find a “European solution” to the issue.

The population of Spain increased to 46.66 million to Jan. 1, 2018, a rise of 132,263 people than a year earlier, the highest since Jan. 1 2013, the National Statistics Institute reported.

Spain saw a net increase of migrants arriving in the country of 146,604 people, after the arrival of almost half a million people last year, the largest migrant influx in 10 years, the data showed.

The total number of deaths in Spain in 2017 outpaced the number of births at the fastest pace since records began in 1941, data showed last week as the number of births dropped 4.5 percent while the number of deaths rose 3.2 percent.

The largest increases in migrants came from Venezuela, Colombia, Italy and Morocco, while the largest decreases were from Romania, Britain and Ecuador, INE said.

(Reporting by Paul Day; Editing by Jesús Aguado, William Maclean)

Alberto remnants threaten Alabama with flash flooding

Subtropical Storm Alberto arrives at Orange Beach, Alabama, U.S., May 28, 2018, in this picture obtained from social media. David Green/@dsg_dukester/Twitter/via REUT

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Subtropical storm Alberto fizzled into a subtropical depression as it rolled into Alabama on Tuesday but forecasters warned of potentially dangerous flash floods even as winds dropped to 30 miles per hour (48 km per hour).

Subtropical Storm Alberto is pictured nearing the Florida Panhandle in this May 27, 2018 NASA handout photo. NASA/Handout via REUTERS

Subtropical Storm Alberto is pictured nearing the Florida Panhandle in this May 27, 2018 NASA handout photo. NASA/Handout via REUTERS

At its height, Alberto, the first storm of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, blasted sustained winds of 65 mph (105 kph) with gusts that packed full hurricane punches of 75 mph (121 kph), said meteorologist David Roth of the National Weather Service.

“It’s slowly weakening and it’s not regaining any strength,” Roth said. “The chances of it spinning off tornadoes now has dropped to virtually zero.”

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) canceled coastal warnings and watches for the storm, which spun up days before the formal start of the hurricane season on June 1. Minor power outages were reported in north Florida, and the state’s emergency response team started closing shelters on Monday, citing a lack of need.

Some areas on Gulf Coast barrier islands remained under evacuation orders due to flood risks, officials said.

Alberto will probably weaken through Tuesday as it moves northward into the Tennessee Valley and then to the Ohio Valley, finally withering into a “remnant low pressure storm” by Tuesday evening, with winds at around 25 mph (40 kph), Roth said.

The NHC warned it would still deliver heavy, potentially damaging rains of 2-6 inches (6-15 cm), with as much as 12 inches (30 cm) in some areas in north Florida and Alabama through Tuesday night.

It could dump up to 6 inches (15 cm) of rain as it moves north toward lower Michigan by Wednesday evening, officials said.

Two journalists covering the worsening weather in North Carolina were killed on Monday when a tree fell on their vehicle.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc was sending workers back to the eastern Gulf of Mexico and Chevron Corp restored some production on Monday after the storm’s passage.

Shell plans to restore production at its Ram Powell Hub in the Viosca Knoll area of the Gulf as it soon as the platform can operate safely, the company said.

Authorities in Florida’s Franklin and Taylor counties issued mandatory evacuation orders for thousands of coastal residents.

Four deadly hurricanes struck the United States last year, killing at least 144 people and causing billions of dollars in damage, massive power outages and devastating hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses, according to the NHC.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Additional reporting by Ian Simpson and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Scott Malone and Jeffrey Benkoe)

More than 100 killed in passenger plane crash in Cuba

Firefighters work in the wreckage of a Boeing 737 plane that crashed in the agricultural area of Boyeros, around 20 km (12 miles) south of Havana, shortly after taking off from Havana's main airport in Cuba, May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

By Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta

HAVANA (Reuters) – More than 100 people were killed in a fiery crash of a Boeing 737 passenger plane in Cuba on Friday, with just three seriously injured survivors in hospital after being pulled from the wreckage, officials and state media said.

The aircraft, on a domestic flight to Holguin in eastern Cuba, crashed shortly after taking off from Havana at 11 a.m. (1500 GMT). There were either 104 or 105 passengers, including five children, plus nine crew members, various state media said.

“We should expect that the news will not be good, as there are a high number of people who appear to have been killed,” President Miguel Diaz-Canel said in broadcast comments.

Rescue team members work in the wreckage of a Boeing 737 plane that crashed in the agricultural area of Boyeros, around 20 km (12 miles) south of Havana, shortly after taking off from Havana's main airport in Cuba, May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

Rescue team members work in the wreckage of a Boeing 737 plane that crashed in the agricultural area of Boyeros, around 20 km (12 miles) south of Havana, shortly after taking off from Havana’s main airport in Cuba, May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

The fire from the crash had been put out and authorities were identifying bodies, the president said. The cause of the crash was not immediately known and Diaz-Canel said authorities were investigating.

The Boeing 737-201 aircraft was built in 1979 and leased by Cuban airline Cubana from a small Mexican firm called Damojh, according to the Mexican government. That would make it significantly older than most planes in service.

Damojh in Mexico said it did not immediately have any more information. Cubana declined to comment.

Cubana has been the subject of complaints over service and delays in recent months, according to state media.

Wreckage of Flight CU972 was strewn over the crash site area 20 km (12 miles) south of Havana, a Reuters witness said, and blackened parts of the fuselage were visible. Its destination Holguin is the capital of a province that is popular with tourists for its pristine beaches.

“We heard an explosion and then saw a big cloud of smoke go up,” said Gilberto Menendez, who runs a restaurant near the crash site in the agricultural area of Boyeros.

Carlos Alberto Martinez, the director of Havana’s Calixto Garcia hospital, told Reuters that four victims of the accident had been brought there. One had died and three others, all women, were in a serious condition, he said.

“She is alive but very burnt and swollen,” said a distressed relative of one of the survivors at the hospital.

The reason for the plane going down was unclear. “During take-off (the plane) apparently suffered a problem and dived to the ground,” the Mexican transport department said on its website.

Most aircraft accidents take months of investigation to explain and are typically caused by a cocktail of different factors, according to aviation experts.

People look on near of the wreckage of a Boeing 737 plane that crashed in the agricultural area in Boyeros, around 20 km (12 miles) south of Havana, on Friday shortly after taking off from Havana's main airport in Cuba, May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

People look on near of the wreckage of a Boeing 737 plane that crashed in the agricultural area in Boyeros, around 20 km (12 miles) south of Havana, on Friday shortly after taking off from Havana’s main airport in Cuba, May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

CUBANA COMPLAINTS

Boeing Co said in a Twitter post: “We are aware of news reports out of Cuba and are closely monitoring the situation.”

Boeing 737 aircraft use engines made by CFM International, the supplier of the world’s most-used engines, built by a joint venture of GE and France’s Safran.

On Thursday, Cuba’s First Vice President Salvador Valdés Mesa had met with Cubana bosses to discuss public complaints about its service, according to state-run media. Problems included the cancellation of numerous domestic flights this year, and long delays which the company said were caused by technical problems with its aircraft.

Earlier this month, the company was ordered to suspend flights by its six Russian built AN-158 aircraft, of which most had reportedly already been grounded.

The last fatal crash in Cuba was in 2017, the Aviation Safety Network said. It was a military flight that killed all eight on board. In 2010, a commercial Aero Caribbean plane crashed in central Cuba. All 68 people on board were killed.

The latest available information on Cuba from U.N. safety aviation agency ICAO, dating back to 2008, ranks it above the global average, though that preceded the latest three crashes.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh, Nelson Acosta and Marc Frank in Havana; additional reporting by Anthony Esposito, Julia Love, Dave Graham and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico, Writing by Rosalba O’Brien; editing by Grant McCool)

Wind-fanned wildfires threaten to spread in parched Oklahoma

The sun sets through smoke from the Rhea fire on a wind farm near Seiling, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford

By Nick Oxford

TALOGA, Okla. (Reuters) – Wildfires which have killed two people in western Oklahoma could spread and more could ignite as wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour whip an area where scant rain has fallen in five months, fire and forestry officials said on Tuesday.

Several wildfires have begun in the past week, and the largest, dubbed the Rhea Fire, began on Thursday. By Tuesday it covered nearly 250,000 acres, in western Oklahoma, and was only 3 percent contained, said Shawna Hartman, spokeswoman for Oklahoma Forestry Services.

That fire last week consumed the home, barn and half of the small herd of cattle of Larry Lynes, 66, and his wife, Arlinda, 64, who live near Taloga, Oklahoma.

Larry Lynes sifts through the ashes of his bedroom at his home that was destroyed by the Rhea fire near Taloga, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxfor

Larry Lynes sifts through the ashes of his bedroom at his home that was destroyed by the Rhea fire near Taloga, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford

“We didn’t have any time at all,” Arlinda Lynes said on Tuesday. “So I went in there and got photo albums from when the children were little and som

e papers off the desk.”

Arlinda Lynes said the couple will rebuild, and their small herd is growing again.

“We got a new baby (calf) this morning, which we are going to name Smokey,” she said.

The Rhea fire burns into the night near Seiling, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford

The Rhea fire burns into the night near Seiling, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford

 

 

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has declared a state of emergency for 52 of the state’s 77 counties because of the wildfires and critical conditions for more fires to start.

Western Oklahoma has had no significant rainfall in more than 150 days, while the relative humidity is extremely low, said Hartman.

“This presents unprecedented conditions for this part of Oklahoma for sure,” Hartman said in a phone call.

 

There was a “100 percent chance” that a spark would ignite if it flew into the state’s dry grasslands, she said, and any fire would spread rapidly because of the high winds.

Later on Tuesday, new flames sprung up south of the western Oklahoma town of Seiling, Hartman said.

Ryan Barnes, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma, said relief was several days away, with the heaviest rains forecast from Friday night into Saturday morning.

The Rhea fire burns through a grove of red cedar trees near Seiling, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford

The Rhea fire burns through a grove of red cedar trees near Seiling, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford

A woman who was trying to evacuate from her residence was killed when flames from the Rhea fire burned the car she was driving, Hartman said. Local media reports said her body was found on Saturday.

A separate fire in western Oklahoma killed a 61-year-old man last Thursday, Oklahoma fire officials said.

(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Editing by James Dalgleish and Cynthia Osterman)

2 Dead as Fire sweeps across Western Oklahoma

aerial view of fires burning in Oklahoma.

By Kami Klein

With winds gusting at 30mph, low humidity and very dry conditions, fire officials in Oklahoma say that as bad as it is now, things are looking worse for the week. So far there have been two deaths reported and several counties are ordering evacuations as the flames burn mostly out of control in the Northwest areas of Oklahoma.  

According to KOCO News 5 the fires have burned more than 400,000 acre in western Oklahoma, and dry, windy weather has severely hindered firefighting efforts.  Today the counties of Dewey, and the towns of Selling, Talogo and Putnam have been order to evacuate.

In a news release late Sunday night Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Keli Cain stated that  61-year-old Jack Osben died Thursday in Roger Mills County. He was driving a motor grader to help firefighters put out the fire that began southeast of Leedey,about 110 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. Cain said a woman also died as a result of a fire near Seiling, about 90 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. The woman had been visiting at a residence, near Seiling, Okla., when the fire caused the people there to evacuate the area.The residents made it away from the area and reported to the authorities that the woman was missing. A search was made in the area well within the burn area where a Jeep Cherokee was found with the woman inside.

Because the fire began during the governor’s burn ban and if it should be proven the fire was intentionally set, the person who set the fire could be charged in the woman’s death.

Oklahoma News 4 reported that some volunteer fire departments are asking for donations to help, as fire heads toward many farming and rural towns.  “The wind’s horrible,” Weatherford Fire Chief Mike Karlin said. “We had wind all through the night. Typically, in the night, we get higher humidities, we get lower winds. The only thing that we’ve had is cooler temperatures, and that hasn’t affected the fire conditions at all.”

Weather conditions will be feeding the fire this week as dozens of fire departments attempt to gain control of the flames.  Warnings are out in 19 counties of Oklahoma for severely hazardous fire conditions, prohibiting fires and asking that people be vigilant throughout the state.