As a wildfire threatens the small town of Freedom, Oklahoma, authorities are urging residents to evacuate. The wildfire, which originally started in Woodward County, Oklahoma, is quickly spreading to the north towards Woods County, Oklahoma, along the Oklahoma/Kansas border. On Tuesday, the Woods County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) recommended that people in Freedom, Oklahoma, located in northwest Woods County, leave as quickly as possible as the wildfire, fueled by gusty winds and dry conditions, threatens the small town of just under 300 people.
According to News 9, a CBS affiliate out of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on Tuesday, the wildfire that currently threatens Freedom, Oklahoma, started in northern Woodward County early Tuesday afternoon around 1 p.m. After burning off nearly 30,000 acres by late Tuesday evening and prompting evacuations of roughly 100 square miles in Woodward County, the wildfire then reportedly stalled out west of Freedom, Oklahoma, at the Cimarron River.
Matt Lehenbauer with Woods County Emergency Management said in an ABC News report on Tuesday that if the wildfire jumps the Cimarron River, it will be difficult to control due to 40 mph wind gusts.
“We’re going to have to really watch it, because if it jumps that river, it’s going to be tough to stop again.”
Lehenbauer went on to say that winds shifting from the southwest to the west throughout Tuesday would put the town of Freedom in even more danger.
“We’re expecting wind gusts of 40, 45 mph. That’s going to go all through the day and probably not start to subside until sundown. That’s a huge concern.”
Oklahoma Forestry Services spokeswoman Hannah Anderson said in a KSN news report late Tuesday afternoon that the wildfire has already destroyed several structures as it swept through 40 square miles of rural land in Woodward County. Unknown is how many of those structures were homes, but a damage assessment on Wednesday is supposed to determine the exact number and type of buildings that have been destroyed so far by the wildfire that now threatens the small town of Freedom, Oklahoma.
As of 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, the out-of-control grass fire was still one or two hours away from Freedom, a small town located about 170 miles northwest of Oklahoma City that has fueled its economy through a salt-processing plant since 1935, when it was opened by Ezra Blackmon as the Blackmon Salt Company. That salt plant, which was bought out by Cargill Salt in 1982 and turned into a solar salt-processing plant, is located less than 10 miles west of Freedom and could be at a significant risk if the wildfire moves into Woods County.
The Hutch Post updated a Tuesday report early Wednesday morning, saying that winds had shifted overnight and pushed the wildfire away from Freedom and the salt manufacturing plant. As of 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Lehenbauer, with the Woods County EMA, said the wildfire had so far not jumped the Cimarron River, putting Freedom residents in the clear.
According to Lehenbauer, firefighters from more than a dozen area fire departments were able to protect the salt facility by parking fire trucks around its perimeter along the Cimarron River.
“Lehenbauer says the blaze had threatened an iodine plant but firefighters were able to protect the facility by parking their firetrucks around its perimeter. He says the flames jumped over the vehicles and burned all the way around the plant before the winds shifted, diminishing the threat,” reported the Hutch Post out of Hutchinson, Kansas, on Wednesday.
Just last month, news headlines also read “wildfire threatens small town.” Freedom, Oklahoma, was once again that small town. Freedom is located just five miles southwest of where a wildfire started in March that burned off nearly 600 square miles of rural area in both Oklahoma and Kansas.
[Image via FEMA/Wikimedia Commons]