April 17th, 2024

Rapidly expanding wildfires in the Texas Panhandle prompt evacuations

By The Associated Press on February 27, 2024.

CANADIAN, Texas (AP) – Surging wildfires fueled by strong winds and dry grass in unseasonably warm temperatures prompted safety warnings for residents of several towns and at least one evacuation order in the far northern part of the Texas Panhandle on Tuesday.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties and ordered the state to activate emergency response assistance to support local firefighters.

One of the fires, dubbed the Smokehouse Creek Fire, has already burned more than 300 square miles (780 square kilometers) and is 0% contained, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. The fire has more than doubled its size since it sparked Monday.

Multiple fires were reported across Hemphill and Hutchinson counties. Texas state Sen. Kevin Sparks said an evacuation order was was issued for the town of Canadian, a town of about 2,000 about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northeast of Amarillo, and other areas.

The National Weather Service has issued red flag warnings and fire danger alerts for several other states through the midsection of the country, as high winds of over 40 mph (64 kph) combined with warm temperatures, low humidity and dry winter vegetation to make conditions ripe for wildfires.

“Texans are urged to limit activities that could create sparks and take precautions to keep their loved ones safe,” Abbott said.

In central Nebraska, a mower sparked a prairie fire that has burned a huge swath of grassland roughly the size of the state’s largest city of Omaha, state officials said Tuesday.

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