Wildfires spread to more than 500,000 acres in Texas Panhandle prompting evacuations

The second-largest wildfire on record in Texas burned through more than half a million acres on Wednesday as firefighters from across the state scrambled to contain it. The fire has burned homes, burned vast tracts of farmland and forced evacuations across the sparsely populated Texas Panhandle.

Dubbed the Smokehouse Creek Fire, the blaze was ignited Monday and spread by Wednesday. 500,000 acresIt was out of control, fueled by strong winds and dry conditions, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

The fire spread around the town of Canadian, a cattle-country community of about 2,200 people northeast of Amarillo near the Oklahoma state line. Residents who had not already left were forced to stay overnight. The county sheriff warned Tuesday that there are no open trails out of town.

Dozens of people took shelter inside a church, local news outlet The Canadian Record reported. Others were given the opportunity to use the local high school gymnasium. Some residents simply stayed home and hoped for the best.

“A lot of things are gone now,” said Cody Cameron, 56, who said he and his wife were at home collecting their three cats when roads in and out of Canada were closed Tuesday. By Wednesday, roads had reopened, and the ground was black on both sides of Highway 60 for the 10 miles approaching Canadian.

A part of the fire during the night Mr. Cameron's backyard, but he said it was dead. “We were lucky,” he said.

Officials said that no casualties or serious injuries have been reported in this fire so far.

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A Forest Service spokeswoman said about 200 firefighters were battling several wildfires across the Panhandle, most of them focused on the Smokehouse Creek fire. Strong winds prevented the use of airplanes to prevent the spread of the fire.

The full extent of the damage was still unclear Wednesday. Although some houses on the outskirts of Canada appeared to have burned, the center of the city appeared to be mostly spared.

“The sheriff's house was among the many that burned,” said The Canadian Record's Larry Ezell Brown, who has been providing updates. on its Facebook page. He said the sheriff was out of town working and was not home at the time.

The Smokehouse Creek fire is “a significant fire,” Forest Service spokeswoman Erin O'Connor said. “It's alarming how quickly it spreads.” The largest wildfire ever recorded in Texas was the Amarillo Range in 2006, which burned nearly one million acres.

The fire this week was fueled by dry, dead grass in a drainage area, said Ms O'Connor, who called the land “the perfect environment to support the growth we've seen” in the burn zone.

Released by Texas Governor Greg Abbott Disaster Notification 60 counties on Tuesday, activating state resources to help local firefighters. He urged residents to limit activities that could create sparks.

As cold air with a rapid change in wind direction pushed across the region, the fire burned and became erratic on Tuesday. Fire danger is expected to decrease Wednesday and Thursday, with light winds across the Texas Panhandle.

“Conditions are going to moderate a little bit,” Ms O'Connor said, which would give firefighters a chance to tackle the blaze before Friday, when humidity is expected to drop again and strong winds will return.

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In addition to the Smokehouse Creek fire, the Forest Service is monitoring other active fires, including some around the town of Fritch, north of Amarillo, where Hutchinson County Emergency Management Coordinator Jerry Longwell told residents to evacuate several neighborhoods Tuesday. .

“It's definitely a disaster,” Mr. Langwell spoke late Tuesday to Fritch residents inside a temporary shelter. “The damage is bad. I'd say 50 percent of the structures between here and Borger are damaged in some way,” he added, referring to another town 12 miles away.

Mr. A spokesman for Longwell said Wednesday In a video on Facebook Residents have been allowed to re-enter the city in some cases, but he warned them to be prepared for a horrific scene.

“I don't think a lot of people who live in the Fritch area are going to be prepared for what they're going to see when they walk into town,” spokeswoman Deitra Thomas said. Video on Facebook. “It's like what you see with a tornado. It will hit one house and completely miss the next house.

Meteorologists in Amarillo advised residents Stay home and keep their pets indoors Due to poor air quality due to forest fire smoke. Air quality also suffered further south in Lubbock.

Just over the state line in western Oklahoma, local officials told some residents Ellis and Roger Mills counties to exit.

A wildfire was burning north of the Pantex plant, which separates nuclear weapons, near Amarillo, officials said. The plant suspended operations on Tuesday and ordered the evacuation of non-essential workers.

“They are working hand-in-hand with the local jurisdiction and are taking precautions to ensure their plant is safe,” said Ms. O'Connor, a spokeswoman for the Forest Service.

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There was no fire on site or near the plant's boundaries, but nuclear safety officials responded anyway, said Laef Pendergraft, a nuclear safety engineer with the National Nuclear Security Administration's manufacturing office at Pantex. The plant has a fire department, he told a press conference.

Unseasonably high temperatures and high winds also fueled wildfires elsewhere in the Great Plains, including Nebraska and Kansas.

Christine Hauser, John Yoon, Delgar Erdanesana And Judson Jones Contributed report.

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