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All hands on deck as largest wildfire in Texas history rages in panhandle

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(The Center Square) – All hands are on deck as the largest wildfire in Texas history rages in the northern most part of the panhandle.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire in Hutchinson County north of Amarillo, Texas, has already burned more than one million acres across Texas and 25,000 acres in Oklahoma, Texas A&M Forest Service said on Thursday. The fire is only 3% contained.

Since Sunday, the forest service says firefighters have responded to 56 wildfires burning more than 1,256,328 acres.

The potential for wildfire activity is also expected to increase through Saturday and Sunday due to strong winds and dry fuels.

Evacuations were ordered from some counties. One 83-year-old grandmother in Stinnett in Hutchinson County has been confirmed to have died from the fire. With search and rescue efforts ongoing and restricted in heavily damaged communities, authorities said the death toll could increase.

There are currently three additional active wildfires in the Texas panhandle, the forest service reported. They include the Grape Vine Creek Fire in Gray County that has already burned 30,000 acres and is 60% contained; the Windy Deuce Fire in Moore County with 142,000 acres burned and only 30% contained; and the Magenta Fire in Oldham County with 2,500 acres burned, which is 65% contained.

“Strong winds and warm temperatures have resulted in grasses drying across many portions of Texas,” Texas A&M Forest Service Fire Chief Wes Moorehead said. “As firefighters continue to suppress active fires, we urge Texans to be cautious with any outdoor activity that may cause a spark.”

In addition to Grape Vine, Windy Deuce and Magenta Fire, the 687 Reamer Fire, which had burned more than 2,000 acres in Hutchinson County, was overtaken by the Smokehouse Fire.

Fires that are 100% contained include the Old Bunger Fire in Young County and the Juliet Pass Fire in Armstrong County. Multiple fires in east Texas have been put out.

On Wednesday, Texas A&M Forest Service responded to eight new requests to assist with wildfires burning 4,044 acres statewide, it said.

Following the Smokehouse Creek’s one million acres burned, which is still raging with 60-mile an hour winds, the second largest fire in state history was the East Amarillo Complex, which burned 907,245 acres in 2006. The next largest wildfires were Big Country, which burned 366,000 acres in 1998, Perryton’s 318,156 acres burned in 2017 and Rockhouse Fire’s 314,444 acres burned in 2011, according to the forest service.

Sixty-four counties have burn bans in place. The majority are in the Panhandle and nearly all border counties stretching from El Paso to Brownsville.

On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an emergency disaster declaration for 60 counties impacted by wildfires.

Through Texas A&M Forest Service, over 95 firefighters, all Hazard Incident Management Team personnel, 11 Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System strike teams (over 189 personnel and over 58 fire engines) are combating the fires.

Personnel are also using a range of equipment including six Single Engine Air Tankers assisted by Texas National Guard CH47 Chinook helicopters.

Multiple task forces, search and rescue and public works teams, animal veterinary services, Texas Department of Public Safety aviation and highway personnel, game wardens, and paramedic, medical and ambulance support teams are also providing support.

The Texas Animal Health Commission has provided personnel to offer livestock support; the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is also monitoring the quality of air, water and wastewater conditions.

Texans impacted by wildfire are urged to report property damage (homes, businesses, agricultural property) online.

Texans are encouraged to follow guidance to prevent wildfires during windy and dry conditions found at TexasReady.gov and tfsweb.tamu.edu.

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