"Smokehouse Creek Fire: Second-largest inferno in Texas history engulfs 850,000 acres"



On Thursday, the second-largest wildfire in Texas history continues its relentless spread, with its deadly reach already surpassing the area of Rhode Island. Alongside numerous other blazes, it has laid waste to countless homes in the state's panhandle region and claimed the lives of thousands of cattle.

Among the five major fires, at least one casualty has been reported. The Smokehouse Creek Fire, spanning nearly 900,000 acres across Texas and Oklahoma since Monday, stands as the largest. Joyce Blankenship, 83, tragically lost her life in the blaze at her residence in Stinnett, as confirmed by her family. County officials, while acknowledging the wildfire-related fatality, have yet to disclose further details about the victim.

In Fritch, a resident recounted the urgent evacuation from one of the wildfires, emphasizing their priority to ensure the safety of their elderly neighbors. "Our primary concern was their evacuation. We remained behind until they were safely out," shared Frank Probst.

Probst recounted to CNN how his family had no time to gather any belongings before they were forced to flee to safety.

"It all happened so suddenly. Once the evacuation sirens sounded, there was no time to spare," he explained. "We simply got into the car and drove away."

Apart from the Smokehouse Creek Fire, which has engulfed 850,000 acres in Texas alone, other significant blazes include the Windy Deuce Fire, scorching 142,000 acres, and the Grape Vine Creek Fire, consuming 30,000 acres in the same state. Two smaller fires have burned 2,500 acres or less each.

A sudden change in wind direction in the Texas panhandle earlier this week played a significant role in the rapid expansion of the Smokehouse Creek wildfire. "The wind shifted directly from the north, creating a massive wall of fire advancing across the terrain," explained Adam Turner, spokesperson for the Texas A&M Forest Service, on Wednesday afternoon.

Although Wednesday brought more favorable weather conditions for firefighting efforts, with lighter winds, the forecast for Friday through Monday predicts the development of elevated to critical fire weather conditions across the region. This is attributed to strong winds, low relative humidity values, and the ongoing drying of combustible materials.

While some areas of the Panhandle were expected to experience snowfall on Thursday, the forecast did not indicate any snow in the regions affected by the fire.

Latest developments

According to fire officials, the Smokehouse Creek Fire ballooned from 500,000 acres to 850,000 acres on Wednesday, with containment remaining at a mere 3%.

Andy Holloway, the Hemphill County AgriLife Extension agent, disclosed to CNN the devastation caused by the fire in Hemphill County, encompassing the city of Canadian, where 400,000 acres were scorched, numerous homes were razed, and thousands of cattle perished. The Panhandle region, home to over 85% of the state's cattle, suffered immensely, as noted by agricultural authorities.

To combat the blazes, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has greenlit additional state resources, including 94 firefighting personnel, 33 fire engines, and six air tankers.

In response to the crisis, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt announced the activation of emergency response teams, prioritizing the safety of residents. The state's emergency management spokesperson informed CNN of the destruction of at least 13 homes.

Amid the chaos, the city of Fritch, Texas, finds itself under a boil water notice, further compounded by widespread power and gas outages, as announced by Hutchinson County officials. Relief efforts are underway, with water bottles being distributed at various churches and locations.

Amarillo National Bank has taken a proactive step by initiating the Panhandle Disaster Relief Fund, kickstarted with a generous $1 million donation, as outlined in a statement from the financial institution.

Upon returning for the dogs, the woman witnessed her neighbors' homes engulfed in flames.

Tyler McCain recounted waking up to smoky skies over Fritch on Tuesday, prompting him and his family to seek refuge at his grandparents' house across town. Concerned about the worsening fire conditions, McCain's wife returned home to retrieve their two dogs.

Upon her arrival in their neighborhood, she was confronted with the devastating sight of two neighboring homes ablaze. Hastily, she gathered their pets, and the family sought shelter overnight in Amarillo.

Returning the next day, McCain and his family were confronted with nothing but ash and debris where their home once stood. In an emotional interview with CNN, McCain shared the heartbreak of witnessing his 3-year-old daughter, Addison, cry over the loss of their home. "Material possessions can be replaced, but it's agonizing to see your children torn from their familiar surroundings," he expressed.

Addison's incessant questions about their lost home weigh heavily on McCain. "She keeps reminding us of all the things we've lost and now she's asking, 'Daddy, will you build me a new house?'" he revealed.

Regret gnaws at McCain as he reflects on not retrieving more belongings before evacuating. "Every time she asks for something, I can't help but wonder why I didn't grab it. Her favorite stuffed animal... why didn't I grab it for her?" he lamented.

An official from Hutchinson County, where multiple fires including Smokehouse Creek, Windy Deuce, and 687 Reamer are raging, reported the destruction of at least 20 structures in Stinnett, structures outside Borger city limits, and "quite a few structures" in Fritch.

Frank Probst, the Fritch resident who aided his neighbors before fleeing, returned to his neighborhood on Wednesday to find his home, purchased just six months ago, reduced to rubble. Entire neighborhoods he once passed on his way to Amarillo have also been razed. For now, his family will remain in Amarillo as they contemplate their next steps.

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