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Oklahoma wildfires kill 2; threat nears historic level

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By KEN MILLER
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Wildfires that have killed two people in western Oklahoma are nearing conditions not seen in at least a decade because of the mixture of high temperatures, low humidity and heavy winds, the National Weather Service said Monday.

Weather service meteorologist Doug Speheger said Tuesday's forecast represents the most potential for the spread of wildfires in the past 10 years of a database that considers a variety of factors.

Temperatures are projected to reach the mid-90s with humidity below 10 percent and winds gusting to 40 mph (64 kph). The forecast includes northwestern Texas and the Texas Panhandle where firefighting aircraft is stationed in Amarillo, Childress, Abilene and Fort Stockton.

"With these conditions wildfires can spread rapidly, present control issues for firefighters and pose a real threat to public safety," said Texas A&M Forest Service Fire Chief Mark Stanford.

The area also is in extreme to exceptional drought, the two most severe designations.

Firefighters sent by the U.S. Forest Service's Southern Area Coordination Center are fighting one fire that's burned more than 245,000 acres (990 sq. kilometers) near Leedey, about 110 miles (180 kilometers) northwest of Oklahoma City and another blaze that's burned nearly 68,000 acres (275 sq. kilometers) near Woodward, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Leedey.

"We're out there strengthening fire lines ... widening lines to make sure they're in real good shape with the wind that is on the horizon," said spokesman Todd Schroeder at the scene of what's known as the Rhea Fire near Leedey. "The winds that we may have tomorrow may make this really stand up and run again."

At the 34 Complex fire near Woodward, spokesman John Nichols said firefighters are doing much the same thing.

"The winds are coming, but wet weather is supposed to be coming too, and we're hoping the wet weather will arrive," Nichols said.

The weather service says rain and thunderstorm chances will increase Thursday night and Friday with strong to severe storms possible in southwestern Oklahoma and western north Texas on Friday.

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