Firefighters face tough weather conditions battling largest wildfire in Texas history that has left 2 dead

Firefighters in Texas faced rising temperatures, whipped-up winds and dry air Saturday in their battle to keep the largest wildfire in state history from turning more of the Panhandle into a parched wasteland.

Firefighters were focused on containing the fire along its northern and eastern perimeter, where aggressive gusts from the southwest threatened to spread the flames and consume more acreage, according to Jason Nedlo, a spokesperson with the team of firefighters battling the Smokehouse Creek Fire that began Monday and has claimed at least two lives.

“The main goal is to continue using dozers and fire engines to contain and patrol the fire,” Nedlo said. “We’re also focused on not losing any more structures, no more loss of life.”

Largest Wildfire In Texas History Sweeps Across Panhandle
A homeowner cuts up the frame of his doublewide mobile after it was destroyed by the Smokehouse Creek Fire when it burned its way through town. March 2, 2024, in Stinnett, Texas. The fire has burned more than a million acres in the Texas Panhandle, killing at least two people and destroying more than 500 structures.

Scott Olson / Getty Images

The Smokehouse Creek Fire that began Monday left a charred landscape of scorched prairie, dead cattle and destroyed as many as 500 structures, including burned-out homes, in the Texas Panhandle.

The fire, which has merged with another fire and crossed the state line into western Oklahoma, has burned more than 1,700 square miles, or nearly 1.1 million acres, and was 15% contained as of Saturday night, the Texas A&M Forest Service reported.  

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for the entire Panhandle through midnight Sunday after rain and snow on Thursday allowed firefighters to contain a portion of the fire.

Signs warning travelers of the critical fire danger are in place along Interstate 40 leading into Amarillo.

Winds gusts of up to 45 miles per hour were expected Saturday with humidity below 10% and a high temperature of 75 degrees.

“New fires could also potentially start…the relative humidities are very low, the wind gusts are high and so it doesn’t take much, all there needs to be is a spark” to ignite another fire, said meteorologist William Churchill with the National Weather Prediction Center.

Nedlo said because of the ongoing weather conditions, it is not possible yet to predict when the flames will be fully contained and brought under control.

“We’ll know more after the weekend…we’re just not willing to speculate,” Nedlo said.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, although strong winds, dry grass and unseasonably warm weather fed the flames.

“Everybody needs to understand that we face enormous potential fire dangers as we head into this weekend,” Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday after touring the area. “No one can let down their guard. Everyone must remain very vigilant.”

Two women were confirmed killed by the fires this week. But with flames still menacing a wide area, authorities haven’t yet thoroughly searched for victims or tallied homes and other structures damaged or destroyed.

Two firefighters were injured battling the flames in Oklahoma. One suffered a heat-related injury and the other was injured when the brush pumper he was riding in struck a tanker truck as the two were heading to fight the fire near Gage.

Both firefighters are expected to recover.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said individual ranchers could suffer devastating losses due to the fires, but predicted the overall impact on the Texas cattle industry and consumer beef prices would be minimal. The fires are leaving “dead animals everywhere,” Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson said in a video update on Wednesday.

Dozens of Texas counties have been under a burn ban since earlier in the week, according to the forest service.


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