Texas wildfires: At least 1 dead as massive blaze sweeps through state's panhandle, second largest in state history



CNN

The second-largest fire in Texas history continues to burn Thursday, as the blaze — already larger than Rhode Island — has destroyed several homes and killed at least one person and thousands of livestock in the state's Panhandle.

Officials say the Smokehouse Creek Fire has burned nearly 900,000 acres in Texas and Oklahoma since it started Monday. The massive inferno is the largest of the five major fires burning in the region.

One person died after a fire broke out in Scotts Acres in Stinnett, Hutchinson County Public Emergency Management Coordinator Deitra Thomas said Wednesday.

Thomas did not identify the victim, but the family of 83-year-old Joyce Blankenship told CNN that she died in her home after the Smokehouse Creek Fire spread. The family tried to contact the grandmother on Tuesday but did not get a response. On Wednesday, they received word that Blakenship had died.

“The house is gone,” said his grandson, Nathan Blankenship. “There's no way she can get out.”

A Fritch resident said he had to escape the wildfires quickly, but not before taking care of an elderly neighbor. “Our main concern was getting them out first. We got out last,” Frank Probst said.

Probst's family was unable to grab any of their belongings before rushing to safety, he told CNN.

“It happened very quickly. By the time the evacuation sirens went off, it was too late,” he said. “We jumped in the car and took off.”

In addition to the Smokehouse Creek Fire, which has burned 850,000 acres in Texas, the Windy Deuce Fire has burned 142,000 acres and the Grapevine Creek Fire has burned 30,000 acres. The other two fires each burned 2,500 acres or less.

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A sudden change in wind direction in the Texas Panhandle this week contributed to the size explosion of the Smokehouse Creek Fire. “The wind came straight out of the north and moved a huge wall of fire across the landscape,” Texas A&M Forest Service spokesman Adam Turner said Wednesday afternoon.

Fire officials said Wednesday that the fire had grown from 500,000 acres to 850,000 acres. It contains 3%.

While the weather – very light winds – was very favorable for fighting the fire on Wednesday, the forecast for Friday, with strong winds and low humidity values ​​and continued drying, should elevate the region to severe fire weather through Monday. Things that ignite fire.

Snow was expected in parts of the Panhandle on Thursday but was not predicted to be in fire-affected areas.

• Hemphill County AgriLife Extension agent Andy Holloway told CNN that 400,000 acres in Hemphill County, which includes the Canadian city, were burned, scores of homes were destroyed and thousands of livestock were killed. According to agriculture officials, more than 85% of cattle in the state are reared in the panchayat.

• Texas Governor Greg Abbott authorized additional state resources to fight the blaze, including 94 firefighters, 33 fire engines and six air tankers.

• Oklahoma Gov. In a post on Kevin Stitt X they have activated emergency response teams. “As we closely monitor wildfires across the state, the safety of our fellow Oklahomans is a top priority,” he said. A state emergency management spokeswoman told CNN that at least 13 homes were destroyed.

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• Fritch City, Texas, is under a boil water notice “It's difficult to do because many residents are without electricity and gas,” Hutchinson County announced. Officials said water bottles are being handed out at many churches and other places.

• Amarillo National Bank is launching a Panhandle Disaster Relief Fund with a $1 million donation for wildfire victims, according to a statement from the financial institution.

Tyler McCain said Tuesday he and his family woke up to smoky skies over Fritch, so they drove across town to his grandparents. When it became clear the fire was getting worse, Fritch's wife returned to the family home to get their two dogs, he said.

When she arrived at her block, she found two of her neighbors' houses on fire. She retrieved the pets and the family stayed overnight in Amarillo.

On Wednesday, the parents and their three daughters returned to a pile of ash and rubble.

A tearful McCain told CNN that seeing her 3-year-old daughter Addison crying at their home broke her. “Things can change, but it's hard to see your children being ripped out of their lives like that,” she said.

Addison can't stop hearing about losing her home. “She keeps talking about all the things we've lost, and now she's like, 'Dad, are you going to build me a new house?'

McCain said he regretted not grabbing enough supplies before they left. “I keep asking myself why I don't like everything she asks for? Her favorite stuffed animal, why don't I get that for her?” he said.

An official in Hutchinson County, where the Smokehouse Creek, Windy Deuce and 687 Reimer fires are burning, said Wednesday that at least 20 structures were destroyed in Stinnett, structures outside Borger city limits and “a few structures” in Fritch.

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Probst said the Fritch resident, who helped his neighbors and later fled, returned to his neighborhood Wednesday. His home, bought six months ago, is gone, with all the neighborhoods he drove through en route to Amarillo, where his family will stay until they find the next one.

CNN's Carol Alvarado, Amanada Jackson, Monica Garrett, Sharif Paget, Sarah Tonks, Lucy Kafanov, Andy Babineau contributed to this report.

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