Texas wildfire: Biggest fire in state history could worsen with strong winds, dry weather – US 247 News



The wildfire in Texas has already killed two people, demolished hundreds of structures and obliterated thousands of cattle as it became the biggest blaze in the state’s history. And now, weather conditions threaten to make things even worse.

Strong winds mixed with dry conditions this weekend are expected to only fuel the array of fires marching across the state’s panhandle. The conditions have left more than 8 million people across the Central Plains in states including Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma and Nebraska under “red flag” warnings, meaning a high risk of fire danger, according to the National Weather Service.

So far, the Smokehouse Creek Fire has spread across more than 1 million acres and has become the biggest Texas wildfire on record.

The deadly inferno has also destroyed 31,500 acres in Oklahoma. It is only 15% contained. And the fire is just one of five blazes currently scorching the Texas panhandle.

This weekend the Central Plains is expected to see southwesterly winds gusting up to 55 mph Saturday and Sunday, with wind speeds peaking in the afternoon hours both days when temperatures are at their hottest.

Highs this weekend will remain in the upper 70s to mid 80s, and the warm air is very dry, a perfect recipe for potentially dangerous fire weather conditions.

The Storm Prediction Center said a wide swath of the region on Saturday is under an elevated risk of fire activity from western Texas to southeastern South Dakota, with a critical fire threat in the Texas Panhandle.

Sunday’s fire weather threat will be greatest for the Texas Panhandle and western Texas, according to the center.

Four more fires burning: The Windy Deuce Fire in Moore County has burned through 142,000 acres and was 60% contained as of Friday, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. The Grape Vine Creek Fire in Gray County has spread through 30,000 acres and is 60% contained. The Magenta Fire in Oldham County has destroyed 3,297 acres and is 85% contained. And the 687 Reamer fire in Hutchinson County has scorched 2,000 and is 10% contained.

2 deaths reported: Truck driver Cindy Owen was working about 50 miles north of Pampa, Texas, on Tuesday when she got caught in the Smokehouse Creek Fire, her sister-in-law told CNN. She left her truck and tried running to safety but died in the blaze, said Jennifer Mitchell, the wife of Owen’s brother, said. In nearby Hutchinson County, 83-year-old Joyce Blankenship was also killed in the blaze, her family said. “The house was gone,” her grandson Nathan Blankenship said. “There was no way she could’ve gotten out.”

Cause of fire under investigation: State officials said Friday they were investigating to find the origin of the massive Smokehouse Creek Fire and trying to figure out what caused the blaze to ignite.

Fire risk comes on holiday: The heightened fire risk comes as Texans prepare to celebrate the state’s Independence Day on Saturday, prompting urgent warnings from officials to exercise extreme caution when using fireworks.

Blaze threatens state’s cattle industry: Texas leads the country in the number of cattle it’s home to, according to the US Agriculture Department. The fires are tearing across the panhandle, which is home to 85% of the state’s cattle industry. The blaze has already killed thousands of cattle and has taken out other livestock, crops and equipment.

• How you can help: GoFundMe launched a platform for verified fundraisers benefiting people affected by wildfires in Texas. On the website, money is being collected for Texans who have lost homes, belongings and livestock. Hemphill County, where 400,000 acres have been burned and a truck driver was killed, is accepting wildlife relief supplies as well as monetary donations, according to the county’s AgriLife Extension Facebook page. In the city of Fritch, CCS Connect Community Services is accepting monetary donations for residents.

‘Utter devastation’ across Texas panhandle

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Friday as many as 500 structures were already discovered to have been destroyed so far by the fires and noted the devastation was unlike anything he’d seen before.

“Frequently when you see the aftermath of that damage, there is some semblance of a structure that is still there,” Abbott said at a news conference. “When you look at the damages that are here, it’s just gone. Completely gone. Nothing left but ashes on the ground, so those who have gone through this have gone through utter devastation.”

He said at least 400 to 500 structures were lost but “there’s no way to say for certain that that’s going to be the final number because there’s still the ongoing assessment process.”

In addition to homes and businesses, the infernoes have also destroyed over 100 miles of power lines.

The blaze has dealt a massive blow to Texas’ well-established community of cattle farmers. More than 85% of the state’s cattle population is in the panhandle, according to Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

Horrifying videos show herds of cattle fleeing the smoke and flames.

Shane Pennington, a 56-year-old cattle farmer based near Canadian, Texas, told CNN he felt “angry” watching the flames threaten the farm he’s maintained for 20 years.

Pennington said as he watched the wildfire approach, he became more worried about his cattle than his own home. Despite his best efforts, he said there was no place to safely evacuate most of the animals.

Some of them are “cows that I raised right here,” he said. “It’s just hard to see them burn up.”

When I returned to the ranch, I found about 50 dead cattle. He said many of the surviving cows were blinded by the fire and had some burn injuries. “It just burned all the hair off them,” he said. “Their feet are coming off – their hooves, they’re bloody.”

“Even if they survive it, more than likely they’re going to get pneumonia, they’re going to get sick, they’re going to die,” Pennington added. He said he’s already euthanized some animals and anticipates that number will continue growing.

“Your job is to keep them alive, not to destroy them,” he said. “It’s tough.”

In addition to being emotionally challenging, it will also take years for the business to recover from the fire damage, Pennington said.

“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” he said.

CNN’s Sara Tonks, Eric Zerkel and Sarah Davis contributed to this report.