Texas wildfires, including second-largest on record, rage across Panhandle

Texas wildfires
A drone view of buildings damaged by a wildfire in Stinnett, Texas, U.S., February 28, 2024, in this screengrab obtained from a social media video. Tucker Stroud/via REUTERS

Texas wildfires: On Wednesday, while surveying the burned-out remnants of his 50-year residence and mechanic’s workshop in Canadian, a small Texas Panhandle town, Richard Murray fought back tears.

The previous evening, as the second-largest wildfire in the state’s history approached Murray and his wife Gilissa’s residence, a sheriff’s deputy had banged on their door and given them the order to leave.

The 72-year-old Murray declared, “The house is gone and all the cars are melted,” only moments after arriving back home on Wednesday morning. “There’s nothing left.”

The Texas A&M Forest Service reported that the wildfire, which has been raging northeast of Amarillo since Monday, has burned 850,000 acres (344,000 hectares) of grasslands and wood and has moved eastward across the Oklahoma border.

Local media claimed that at least one person, an 83-year-old woman from Hutchinson County, had perished in the fire, which was known as the Smokehouse Creek fire. As of Wednesday night, authorities stated that barely 3% of the fire had containment lines carved around it by firefighters.

In other regions of the state’s northern Panhandle, other smaller wildfires were raging due to strong winds and hot, dry weather.
The Smokehouse Creek Fire destroyed an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. It was almost as huge as the East Amarillo Complex Fire, which burned 907,000 acres in 2006 and was the greatest wildfire in Texas history.
According to the Forest Service, an undetermined number of structures were destroyed or severely damaged.

The mayor of Canada, Terrill Bartlett, said that although the town was “blessed” that there had been no reports of significant injuries or fatalities, the residents who had lost their homes were devastated.
He remarked on Wednesday, “We’re the kind of community that pulls together and supports one another.”

Murray reported that dozens of calls offering assistance have already been received, and he and his wife will be temporarily staying with friends. They were looking for their two cats and dogs on Wednesday morning.

“That’s the hardest thing, not knowing what happened to them,” he added.

The Windy Deuce Fire, which as of Wednesday night had scorched 142,000 acres and was 30% contained, was the second-largest of the Texas fires.
The nation’s main nuclear weapons construction facility, the Pantex plant operated by the U.S. Energy Department, is located close to Amarillo. On Tuesday, the Windy Deuce approached the plant, forcing officials to evacuate non-essential people and halt operations.

However, on Wednesday, the main edge of the fire moved away from Pantex and to the north and west, allowing regular operations to resume at the plant.

On Wednesday, operations at the Pantex Plant resumed as usual, the establishment stated in an internet statement. “There is no imminent wildfire threat to the plant at this time.”

Governor Greg Abbott of Texas declared a state of emergency for 60 counties on Tuesday. He also instructed the Texas Division of Emergency Management to mobilize over 95 firefighters and staff members to assist with road closures, traffic management, medical assistance, and livestock support.

Texas is receiving assistance from the U.S. Forest Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and federal officials are in close communication with those who are “on the front lines of these fires,” according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre during a news briefing on Wednesday.
Data from PowerOutage.us shows that as of Wednesday morning, over 13,000 households and businesses in Texas were without power, with over 4,000 of those being in the Panhandle region alone.

On Tuesday night, Julene Castillo, a different Canadian resident, attempted to leave but was compelled to return when the smoke got too dense for her car to pass through.
We were unable to escape, the fire was blazing all around us, 51-year-old Castillo stated in a Wednesday interview. “Even with the windows rolled up, your eyes and throat burned.”
A little over a hundred people sat and prayed and cried and tried to comfort each other” in the high school parking lot after Castillo, a Canadian Methodist Church secretary, drove there.

According to Castillo, a volunteer firefighter said that in Canada alone, nearly fifty homes had burned completely down.

We were unsure of what else might occur. As the sun set, we could see the glow from the fire, Castillo remarked.
Later on Tuesday night, Castillo came home to find her house still standing. She remained indoors and on Wednesday welcomed anyone in need of a place to stay.

Credits: Reuters

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