OKLAHOMA CITY — A massive wildfire in northeast Oklahoma that burned for days, destroyed dozens of homes and scorched more than 90 square miles likely started with two people illegally burning trash in rural Creek County, authorities said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, investigators suspect arson was the cause of two separate wildfires last week near Luther and Norman that also burned dozens of square miles and resulted in at least one death.
The investigation into the Creek County fire is being done with the Bureau of Indian Affairs because there is some dispute about whether the fire started on tribal land, Creek County Sheriff’s Lt. Charles Redfern said.
Redfern said investigators have talked to two people who were burning trash Thursday in a rural area between Bristow and Drumright. The governor issued a statewide burn ban the following day, but a county ban had been in place since July 5. Redfern declined to release the names of the suspects but said they could face criminal charges.
State-issued burn bans do not apply to tribal land, although tribes typically cooperate with local entities and issue their own burn bans if conditions are dangerous, said Chief George Thurman, of the Sac & Fox Nation.
“We control our own lands, so we say what happens on it,” Thurman said. “But most of the time, we’re cooperative with local law enforcement and fire departments.”
Separate wildfires that broke out Friday and Saturday in far southeast Norman are being investigated as suspicious in nature, Assistant State Fire Marshal JoAnne Sellars said. Norman officials asked her office to help with the investigation, and she said an agent has determined where the fires started but how they started is still under investigation.
Sellars said one fire started Friday along Cemetery Road and 126th Avenue in rural Cleveland County. Two more fires started the next day along Cemetery Road a little more than one mile away.
Firefighters discovered a badly burned body Saturday among the remains of a burned out home near where the fires originated. The state medical examiner’s office is using dental records to determine the victim’s identity.
District Attorney Greg Mashburn said that if the fire was intentionally set, the suspect could face numerous charges, including felony murder.
“Any time that injuries occur or lives are threatened, it aggravates the charges and could result in additional charges beyond arson,” Mashburn said.
Oklahoma County authorities also suspect an arsonist was to blame for a fire near Luther that burned more than 4 square miles Friday and Saturday. Witnesses reported seeing someone throwing newspapers from a black Ford pickup truck after setting them on fire.
“I just come off the turnpike. I was following a truck; he was up in the distance,” a 911 caller said in an audio recording of the call released by the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office. “He took off, it was a bluish-black truck. He turned around in the middle of the road, and I got up here where he was at and the whole woods exploded when I got up to him. …
“It’s a grass fire. He threw something out.”
Sheriff’s spokesman Mark Myers said authorities set up a tip line Tuesday and are seeking any information connected to the fires.
“It’s tough when all you have is a vague description,” Myers said. “That’s why we’re really depending on the public to come forward with some information.”