Plains Wildfires Ignite: At Least 23 Homes Destroyed in Southern Colorado Blaze; 50 Homes Claimed by Rhea Fire in Oklahoma

Alex Blumer, Sean Breslin and Pam Wright
Published: April 19, 2018

Residents in Colorado and Oklahoma watched helplessly from afar as aggressive grass fires destroyed their homes amid some of the most extreme fire conditions in years.

At least 23 homes were destroyed by a blaze that started Tuesday between Colorado Springs and Pueblo, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder told the Associated Press. The fire grew rapidly, torching 64 square miles, but no injuries were reported. It was 25 percent contained as of Wednesday night.

A separate fire near Colorado Springs chased 200 families from their homes and destroyed at least five dwellings and several outbuildings, the AP also reported. It's not believed anyone was hurt by the wind-driven wildfire.

In western Oklahoma, a blaze dubbed the Rhea Fire has burned more than 440 square miles – an area larger than New York City; it has destroyed at least 50 homes and forced hundreds of people to evacuate in Dewey County since Thursday, according to fire officials. The conflagration is just 3 percent contained as of Wednesday morning, KOKH-TV reported.

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Authorities said slight improvements in the conditions allowed evacuation orders to be lifted in Dewey County so residents could return home to check on their houses, the sheriff's office told on Wednesday.

Two deaths have been blamed on the fires in Oklahoma. According to an incident report, a 61-year-old man died Thursday in Roger Mills County, a result of injuries sustained in one of the numerous fires that have erupted in the Sooner State.

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The Dewey County Sheriff's Office reported a second fire-related death, according to Fox 25 News. The body of a woman who was reported missing Saturday while visiting a residence near Seiling, Oklahoma, during an evacuation was found in a vehicle inside the burn area.

The DCSO says the death is being investigated as a homicide since it's possible that the fire was intentionally set. The cause of death has not yet been determined.

By Tuesday night, some towns in western Oklahoma told residents to not call 911 unless they're reporting a fire, the AP also said. A state of emergency was declared by Gov. Mary Fallin for 52 counties.

A group of fires named the 34 Complex Fire has burned 106 square miles, destroyed several homes in northwestern Oklahoma's Woodward County and forced evacuations, fire officials said. The complex of fires is 45 percent contained, according to KOKH.

In Kansas, the State Emergency Operations Center was activated due to the fire weather conditions, which officials warned were still extreme despite recent rain and snowfall, the AP reported.

As a fire crossed into Kansas from Colorado Tuesday night, some 90 homes were evacuated, the AP also said. By Wednesday morning, the fire had been contained and no injuries were reported, state emergency management spokeswoman Katie Horner told the AP.

As a response to the fires, Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer issued a disaster declaration.

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