Texas Panhandle Fires Burn Structures, Close Nuclear Facility

Weather Daily

Fueled by winds gusting at more than 60 mph and dry conditions, wildfires tore through the Texas Panhandle, destroying homes and forcing a nuclear weapons facility to shut down.

H​ere’s the latest as of Wednesday morning:

-​The largest fire is called the Smokehouse Creek Fire. It has burned more than 400 square miles, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service, since being reported late Monday afternoon in Hutchinson County, about 35 miles northeast of Amarillo. The cause of the fire is unknown.

-​Structures, including homes, have been destroyed in Hutchinson County, but exactly how many remains unclear.

-​In Carson County, a nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly plant suspended operations Tuesday night but said it would resume normal operations Wednesday. According to the plant’s X (formerly Twitter) account, the facility is open and all personnel were told it was safe to return for work.

-Conditions are expected to be more favorable for getting the fires under control today. “Satellite shows fire intensity in the Texas Panhandle has decreased overnight,” said weather.com senior meteorologist Chris Dolce. “Weather conditions are trending more favorable for firefighters on Wednesday with high pressure in control, which means much lighter winds, colder temperatures and higher humidity. There’s even a chance of snow tonight into early Thursday.”

(​8:45 a.m. ET) Smokehouse Creek Fire Now Second-Largest On Record In Texas State History

A​ccording to this morning’s update from the Texas A&M Forest Service, the Smokehouse Creek Fire has burned 781 square miles of land, or an area about half the size of Rhode Island. That makes it the second-largest wildfire in the state in records dating to 1988, according to records from the Forest Service.

O​nly the 2006 East Amarillo Complex, which burned more than 1,400 square miles and also started in Hutchinson County, was larger.

T​he fire remains 0% contained.

(8:30 a.m. ET) Wildfires Seen From Space

Texas fires were spotted on satellite as they changed directions from east to south in a fast-moving cold front.

Hemphill County Judge Lisa Johnson told reporters at The Canadian Record that firefighters were going door to door overnight to check on residents in Canadian, Texas.

“Homes have burned in almost every direction,” Johnson was quoted on the independent newspaper’s Facebook page. “We’re just doing the best we can,” she said. “A lot of people were able to get out.”

Evacuations were lifted at about 4 a.m. CST for parts of nearby Wheeler County, but officials said residents returning to homes should use extreme caution as first responders were still working.

(​7:30 a.m. ET) Smokehouse Creek Fire Is Fifth-Largest On Record In Texas

A​t more than 300,000 acres (468 square miles), the Smokehouse Creek Fire is one of the five largest fires recorded in the state of Texas since 1988, according to data from the Texas A&M Forest Service.

T​his fire has already burned more land than all of the recorded Texas wildfires combined in 2023, according to a post from the Forest Service.

D​isaster Declared As Fires Rage

T​he Smokehouse Creek Fire was one of several burning across the region. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties impacted by the blazes.

T​he Smokehouse Creek Fire prompted evacuation orders that included the town of Canadian in Hemphill County. But about 30 minutes after the order went out, the Hemphill County Sheriff’s Office posted this update to Facebook:

“US 60/ 83 south is shut down at this time. We recommend sheltering in place in Canadian at this time. The high school gym in Canadian will be open soon if anyone is traveling (through) and needs shelter.”

I​t wasn’t immediately clear how dire the situation was or if anyone was in danger. A storm chaser in the area shared video of mostly empty streets and smoky skies, but no visible fire.

S​hannon Woodrum, Hemphill County jail administrator, confirmed that people were trapped in Canadian but did not know how many people had stayed behind.

The jail and sheriff’s office are in Canadian, and Woodrum was one of several employees working there through the fire. She said she didn’t feel concerned for her safety.

“​I’m just trying to help these people get out of here,” Woodrum said in a phone call with weather.com.

The jail is currently vacant due to renovations.

C​anadian has a population of about 2,300 people.

Several other fires are burning around the region, including the Grapevine Creek Fire near the town of Lefors, about 40 miles southeast of Canadian. It’s consumed about 47 square miles so far.

Source: https://www.wunderground.com/article/news/weather/news/2024-02-27-texas-fires-canadian-hemphill-hutchinson

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