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Sparks from mower likely caused 1,500-acre Oklahoma fire

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - A six-square-mile fire that destroyed four houses likely was caused by sparks thrown off by a brush hog tractor mower that struck metal, Oklahoma City's deputy fire chief said on Thursday.

The fire was brought under control after 22 fire departments answered the call, only to reignite late Thursday afternoon after gusting winds shifted southwesterly, Oklahoma City Deputy Fire Chief Cecil Clay said.

Firefighters and a National Guard Blackhawk helicopter raced to at least a dozen different fires that reignited from the menacing blaze of the previous day.

The wildfire is one at least 500 that have struck drought-ridden Oklahoma, from the panhandle in the west to the rolling hills of the east, since March 11.

The blaze raced through 1,500 acres of dried brush and cedar trees east of Oklahoma City on Wednesday before it was brought under control by firefighters and water dumps from the Blackhawk chopper.

Rough terrain and high winds that sent embers flying 300 yards made it particularly difficult to control, said Clay.

Residents were forced to evacuate, but no one was injured, he said.

In addition to the four homes destroyed, eight sheds or out buildings also were destroyed, Clay said.

Michelann Ooton, public information manager for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, said more than 500 wildfires have burned across Oklahoma since the first major outbreak on March 11.

The estimate, she said, was conservative because state officials often do not hear of all the fires that have erupted during the four-month long drought.

Three other substantial fires were burning in the central, southern and western portions of the state.

Moreover, the short-term weather outlook for rain is not promising, Ooton said, noting the National Weather Service has predicted weather conditions on Sunday will be particularly conducive to more fires.

"Things are going to get crazy," she said.

(Reporting by Steve Olafson; Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Jerry Norton)

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