Firefighters face difficult weather conditions as they battle the largest wildfire in Texas history

STINNETT, Texas –

Texas firefighters faced rising temperatures, strong winds and dry air Saturday in their battle to prevent the largest wildfire in state history from turning more of the Panhandle into a parched wasteland.

Firefighters focused on containing the fire along its northern and eastern perimeter, where aggressive gusts from the southwest threatened to spread the flames and consume more area, according to Jason Nedlo, spokesman for the fire team battling the Smokehouse Creek Fire. which started on Monday. and has claimed at least two lives.

“The main goal is to continue using bulldozers and fire trucks to contain and patrol the fire,” Nedlo said. “We are also focused on no more loss of structures, no more loss of life.”

The massive fire has left a charred landscape of scorched grasslands, dead livestock and destroyed up to 500 structures, including burned homes, in the Texas Panhandle. It merged with another fire and crossed the state line into Oklahoma, burning more than 1,700 square miles (4,400 square kilometers) and was 15 percent contained, the Texas A&M Forest Service said Saturday.

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for the entire Panhandle until midnight Sunday after rain and snow Thursday allowed firefighters to contain a portion of the fire.

There are signs warning travelers of the critical fire danger along Interstate 40 leading to Amarillo.

Wind gusts of up to 45 miles per hour (72 kilometers per hour) are expected Saturday with humidity below 10 percent and a high temperature of 75 F (24 C).

“New fires could also start…the relative humidities are very low, the wind gusts are strong, so it doesn’t take much, all it takes is a spark” to ignite another fire, said meteorologist William Churchill. from the National Weather Prediction Center.

Nedlo said that due to current weather conditions, it is not yet possible to predict when the flames will be completely contained and controlled.

“We’ll know more after the weekend… we’re just not willing to speculate,” Nedlo said.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, although high winds, dry grass and unusually warm weather fueled the flames.

“Everyone needs to understand that we face enormous potential fire dangers as we approach this weekend,” Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday after touring the area. “No one can let their guard down. “Everyone must remain very attentive.”

Two women were confirmed dead as a result of the fires this week. But with flames still threatening a wide area, authorities have not yet thoroughly searched for victims or counted homes and other structures damaged or destroyed.

Two firefighters were injured battling flames in Oklahoma. One suffered a heat-related injury and the other was hurt when the pumper he was riding on collided with a tanker truck as the two were heading to fight the fire near Gage.

Both firefighters are expected to recover.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said individual ranchers could suffer devastating losses due to the fires, but predicted the overall impact on the Texas livestock industry and consumer prices for meat would be minimal.

The number of cattle killed is unknown, but Miller and local ranchers estimate the total to be in the thousands.


Vertuno reported from Austin, Texas, Miller from Oklahoma City. Associated Press writers Ty O’Neil in Stinnett, Texas and Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed

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