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Sunday April 14, 2024

Texas faces second-largest wildfire in state's history as blaze sweeps across high plains

Smokehouse Creek Fire, expanding to over 1,300 square miles, presents an unprecedented challenge

By Web Desk
February 29, 2024
Wildfires have erupted in the Texas Panhandle this week. — Screenshot from Texas A&M Forest Service video
Wildfires have erupted in the Texas Panhandle this week. — Screenshot from Texas A&M Forest Service video

The second-largest wildfire in Texas history, known as the Smokehouse Creek Fire, is wreaking havoc across the Panhandle, leaving communities grappling with destruction. 

Residents, including 72-year-old Richard Murray, are facing the heart-wrenching aftermath as they return to charred remains.

"The house is gone and all the cars are melted," Murray uttered, encapsulating the overwhelming loss. The uncontained wildfire, scorching 500,000 acres since Monday, has prompted evacuations and inflicted widespread damage. 

Canadian Mayor Terrill Bartlett expressed relief at the absence of serious injuries but acknowledged the devastating impact on those who lost homes.

Murray and his wife, Gilissa, intend to stay with friends, buoyed by numerous calls offering help. As they embark on the arduous task of searching for their pets, the uncertainty weighs heavily on them.

Julene Castillo, a resident of Canadian, shared a harrowing experience of attempting to flee amidst thick smoke. Forced to shelter at the town's high school, Castillo described the collective prayers and support among around 100 families facing a similar ordeal.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire, expanding to over 1,300 square miles, presents an unprecedented challenge. Chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, Nim Kidd, anticipates the fire's growth before achieving full containment. While no deaths or injuries have been reported as of Wednesday, the vast extent of the blaze raises concerns about substantial property losses.

In the midst of the crisis, Tresea Rankin videotaped her own home in Canadian as it succumbed to the flames. Reflecting on the memories within those walls, Rankin acknowledged the emotional toll. The town of Fritch, still recovering from a 2014 fire, faces renewed devastation.

Governor Greg Abbott declared a disaster in 60 counties, mobilizing resources and firefighters. Federal agencies, including FEMA and the US Forest Service, collaborate closely with Texas to combat the relentless inferno.

As the Smokehouse Creek Fire encroached north of the US Department of Energy's Pantex plant, operations ceased, personnel evacuated, and a fire barrier was erected. Despite challenges, the plant resumed normal operations on Wednesday.

The weather forecast offers a glimmer of hope for firefighters with cooler temperatures, less wind, and the possibility of rain on Thursday. However, the sheer size and scope of the blaze, combined with dynamic weather conditions, pose significant challenges.

Evacuation orders remain in effect, emphasizing the community's collective response to the crisis. The Pantex nuclear weapon plant, demonstrating caution, evacuated nonessential staff on Tuesday night but is now operating normally.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire's relentless spread extends into western Oklahoma, amplifying the urgency for residents in its path to flee. As the region faces a severe fire danger, authorities issue red-flag warnings, urging vigilance against the ominous combination of high winds, warm temperatures, and dry conditions.