Oklahoma wildfires: 34 Complex slows, Rhea continues to spread

The two fires have burned more than 316,000 acres and 63 homes

Above: Map of the Rhea Fire, April 16, 2017. Incident Management Team.

Two wildfires that are 20 miles apart in Western Oklahoma have burned more than 316,000 acres and 63 residences.

The spread of the 34 Complex of Fires north of Woodward has slowed, but the strength of the firelines could be tested Tuesday with fire weather conditions called “historic”. The forecast includes winds out of the southwest at 35 to 45 mph with gusts up to 65 along with humidities as low as 7 percent.

map rhea 34 complex wildfires
Map showing heat detected by a satellite on the 34 Complex and Rhea Fires in Western Oklahoma, current at 2:22 a.m. CDT April 17, 2018. The satellite flying over the area twice a day can’t detect heat in light vegetation that burns and then cools before the next pass.

The same conditions will affect the huge Rhea Fire 20 miles south of the 34 Complex. Some areas of the 248,589-acre fire are quiet, but it was still spreading Monday east of Putnam (shown in red on the map above). Those active areas could be challenging for firefighters with the extreme weather predicted for the area Tuesday and Tuesday night.

Fire weather april 17, 2018 dangerous wildfire
Fire weather conditions predicted for Tuesday and Tuesday night.
Rhea Fire
Rhea Fire, April 16, 2018. Oklahoma Forestry Services photo.

Rhea Fire in Oklahoma grows to 241,000 acres

A civilian fatality was reported Saturday

Above: Map of the Rhea Fire in Western Oklahoma, current at 2 p.m. CDT April 15, 2018

The Rhea Fire in Western Oklahoma has long since exceeded the 100,000-acre threshold to qualify as a “mega fire”. The most recent size estimate puts it at 241,280 acres.  More than 500 firefighters are assigned along with three large air tankers, two type 1 helicopters, four single engine air tankers, two CL-415 scooping air tankers, an air attack plane, and two National Guard helicopters.

Dewey County Sheriff Clay Sanders reported Saturday that a female died in her vehicle at a residence near Seiling. He did not release her name, pending family notifications.

On Saturday strong winds out of the northwest pushed the fire through drainages toward Thomas and Fay in Dewey county.

Firefighters will not get a break from the weather anytime soon. The forecast calls for escalating fire danger through Tuesday with the potential for temperatures back up into the 90°’s and relative humidity values below 15 percent in western Oklahoma and below 25 percent along the I-35 corridor. Sustained southwest winds up to 30 mph and gusts of 40-45 mph will again present a very concerning fire behavior scenario with extreme rates of fire spread anticipated.

Firefighting resources from across the country are arriving to assist the local agencies and departments, not only in Oklahoma, but also in New Mexico and Arizona where wildfire activity is increasing.