Oklahoma fire danger likely to worsen

/ Source: The Associated Press

Warm, dry winds were expected to intensify the fire danger through Thursday in Oklahoma, where grass fires have burned across 416,000 acres since Nov. 1, destroying 250 homes and businesses and killing two people.

Firefighters were able to contain several blazes that flared Tuesday.

One fire burned about 100 acres three miles from the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge, acting Manager Ralph Bryant said. The fire hasn't affected bison and elk herds, he said. Another fire burned about 500 acres west of McAlester.

State and federal community relations teams were being deployed into Oklahoma's disaster-declared counties to help people affected by the wildfires, according to the state Department of Emergency Management.

The teams, pairing state specialists with Federal Emergency Management Agency specialists, will work in 12 counties that became eligible for individual assistance after President Bush's Jan. 10 major disaster declaration for Oklahoma. Workers are assessing other counties for possible addition to the declaration.

All 77 counties were declared eligible for the program that reimburses state and local government agencies and certain nonprofit organizations for extraordinary overtime costs, firefighting costs and other infrastructure damage that is a direct result of the disaster.

Fire investigators arrested an Oklahoma City man Tuesday who is accused of starting several grass fires since late December.

Michael Wayne Kiser, 30, was being held in the Oklahoma County jail Tuesday night on $15,000 bail. He faces three complaints of third-degree arson.

Since no structures were lost and no one was injured during the blazes, investigators are pursuing a lesser charge of third-degree arson against Kiser.