Oklahoma wildfires kill hundreds of cattle, blacken pastures

April 30 (Reuters) - Wind-driven wildfires that began in mid-April, fueled by severe drought, have killed hundreds of cattle and destroyed more than 300,000 acres in Oklahoma, authorities said on Monday.

Oklahoma has been grappling with several wildfires this month, including the Rhea Fire in the western part of the state.

Oklahoma's governor, Mary Fallin, recently issued a state of emergency for 52 counties due to the wildfires that blackened close to 350,000 total acres - an area roughly equal to half the size of Rhode Island.

Oklahoma is the nation's fifth-largest cattle producing state with more than 5 million head. While cattle losses were devastating for affected ranchers, overall livestock prices should not be affected, said economists and state officials.

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Wildfires in Oklahoma
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Wildfires in Oklahoma
The remains of Larry and Arlinda Lynes home that was destroyed by the Rhea fire is pictured near Taloga, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
Dead cattle that were killed by the Rhea fire are pictured near Taloga, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
A firefighter works to control the Rhea fire near Seiling, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Larry Lynes looks over what remains of his home that was destroyed by the Rhea fire near Taloga, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
The Rhea fire burns into the night near Seiling, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
A firefighter waits for the Rhea fire to approach near Seiling, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
A firetruck that was destroyed by the Rhea fire is seen near Taloga, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
Arlinda Lynes looks over what remains of her property that was destroyed by the Rhea fire near Taloga, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
The Rhea fire burns through a grove of red cedar trees near Seiling, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
A grove of trees destroyed by the Rhea Fire is seen near Taloga, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
The Rhea fire burns through a grove of red cedar trees near Seiling, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
A cow that got stuck in a barbed wire fence while trying to escape the Rhea fire is pictured near Taloga, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
A firefighter works to control the Rhea fire near Seiling, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Firefighters struggle to control the Rhea fire near Seiling, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
Johnny Lynes sifts through the remains of his parents home that was destroyed by the Rhea fire near Taloga, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
Arlinda and Larry Lynes stand in front of what remains of their home that was destroyed by the Rhea fire near Taloga, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
Firefighters pass by the Rhea fire as it burns through a grove of red cedars near Seiling, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
A CL-415 performs a water drop on the Rhea fire near Seiling, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
A tanker truck waits to refill brush pumpers as the Rhea fire burns near Seiling, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
The Rhea fire burns through a grove of red cedar trees near Seiling, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
David Bailey (L) and Bobby Yoder remove tin roofing from the remains of Larry and Arlinda Lynes home that was destroyed by the Rhea fire near Taloga, Oklahoma, U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
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Rod Hall, Oklahoma state veterinarian, put preliminary cattle deaths at roughly 1,100 head and expects that number could eventually climb to around 2,000.

"We'll never know the exact number and people are also still finding dead animals," Hall said in an interview, adding that recent rains helped contain most of the blazes.

Some cattle died directly from the fires while others were later euthanized due to injuries or smoke inhalation, he said.

Many Oklahoma pastures had not received adequate moisture for more than 200 days. Animals in these areas were caught off-guard when flames were fanned by winds of up to 60 miles per hour (97 km per hour).

Some of the acres destroyed were much-needed grazing land for cattle, state officials said.

The ranchers' most immediate need is hay to feed their cattle, said Michael Kelsey, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association.

Hay inventories were already low in the wake of last year's wildfires and an unusually long, cold and dry winter, he said. (Reporting by Theopolis Waters in Chicago Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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