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Wildfires in Texas prompt evacuations, disaster declaration

The largest of the fires, the Smokehouse Creek Fire in Hutchinson County, has expanded to 250,000 acres, or nearly 391 square miles.
Wildfires in Texas prompt evacuations, disaster declaration
Posted at 8:45 PM, Feb 27, 2024

Fast-spreading wildfires are threatening towns in the Texas Panhandle, prompting evacuations and a disaster declaration by the governor.

On Monday, the Texas A&M Forest Service helped with 13 wildfire requests covering 77,135 acres. By Tuesday, they were still dealing with five active wildfires in the state.

The fires caused the Pantex facility, an installation that assembles and disassembles nuclear weapons and materials for the U.S. government, to pause its operations until further notice on Tuesday.

“The fire near Pantex is not contained,” the company said. “Response efforts have shifted to evacuations. There is a small number of non-essential personnel sheltered on-site.”

Pantex is roughly 30 miles east of Amarillo, Texas.

The fires also prompted evacuations in Hemphill and Hutchinson counties, near Texas' border with Oklahoma.

The largest of the fires, the Smokehouse Creek Fire in Hutchinson County, has more than doubled its size since it started on Monday. It has now expanded to 250,000 acres, or nearly 391 square miles, with 0% containment as of Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. ET, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

To provide context for the magnitude of this fire, New York City spans 305 square miles and Dallas covers 385 square miles. Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration Tuesday evening for the 60 Texas counties that this massive fire is affecting.

“I issued a disaster declaration today to ensure critical fire response resources are swiftly deployed to areas in the Texas Panhandle being impacted by devastating wildfires,” Abbott said in a press release. “The State of Texas stands ready to provide support to our local partners and deploy all resources needed to protect our fellow Texans and their property. Texans are urged to limit activities that could create sparks and take precautions to keep their loved ones safe. I also want to thank the brave firefighters and first responders who are working tirelessly to protect their fellow Texans.”

Abbott says that additional counties could be added depending on the path of the fires.

Based on the latest estimates of acreage burned, the Smokehouse Creek Fire now ranks as the fifth-largest wildfire in Texas history, according to records from the Texas A&M Forest Service.

Fires have been reported in multiple counties such as Gray County, Hutchinson County, Moore County, among others.

These fires have been largely driven by high winds, dry air, and unusually warm temperatures for the season, and evacuations have now been ordered in multiple counties including Moore, Hemphill, Hutchinson and Roberts. 

According to the U.S. government's incident information management system, the active fires have burned more than 300,000 acres in Texas.

In the U.S., wildfires have burned an average of nearly seven million acres a year since 1983.

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