Texas struggles to contain the Smokehouse Creek fire, burns a million acres - Hindustan Times

Texas struggles to contain the second-largest wildfire in US history following Maui

Mar 01, 2024 07:26 AM IST

Smokehouse Creek fire becomes the largest in Texas' history, second largest in US history, consuming over a million acres including ranch, cattle and more.

The Texas Panhandle is in the grip of a devastating wildfire crisis, as the Smokehouse Creek fire became the biggest and most destructive inferno in the state’s history.

A cow that was killed by the Smokehouse Creek wildfire lays on a cattle guard, outside of Canadian, Texas, U.S., February 28, 2024. REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo(REUTERS)
A cow that was killed by the Smokehouse Creek wildfire lays on a cattle guard, outside of Canadian, Texas, U.S., February 28, 2024. REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo(REUTERS)

The fire, which joined hands with another blaze, has consumed more than a million acres of land since last week, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. It is also the second-largest wildfire in the history of the US, following last year's dreadful Maui wildfire.

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The wildfire has created a bleak scene, with grey skies over blackened earth, dotted with oil rigs, rocky canyons, scrub brush and ranchland.

The fire has left behind a trail of devastation, with burned homes, dead livestock and damaged infrastructure. The West Odessa volunteer fire department said on Facebook, “This is now both the largest and most destructive fire in Texas history. It is also the second largest wildfire in US history.”

ALSO READ| Massive wildfire continues scorching over 1 million acres in Texas Panhandle, more danger ahead

Fire has spread its tongue over Oklahoma

At the time of writing this article, fire has crossed the border into Oklahoma, where it has destroyed more than a dozen homes, state emergency officials said. Governor Greg Abbott declared a disaster for 60 counties in Texas, where the fire was only 3% contained as of Thursday.

A light snowfall hailing from New Mexico has given some respite to the firefighters, who are trying to contain the raging flames, but the weather conditions are expected to worsen over the weekend, with low humidity and strong winds, the National Weather Service said.

The Texas A&M Forest Service also increased its wildland fire preparedness level to level 3.

Texas A&M Forest Service spokesman Juan Rodriguez said of the Smokehouse Creek fire, “The rain and the snow is beneficial right now, we’re using it to our advantage.”

“When the fire isn’t blowing up and moving very fast, firefighters are able to actually catch up and get to those parts of the fire,” he added.

One confirmed death and many more feared

The fire has also caused widespread power outages, as it has knocked down power lines and other essential facilities. The North Plains Electric Cooperative said it had to rebuild about 115 miles of line, and hoped to restore power by Monday.

The extent of the damage is still unknown, as emergency crews have not been able to assess the situation fully. But the fire has taken a heavy toll on the rural communities in the area. One elderly woman, Joyce Blankenship, has been confirmed dead, but local authorities have not yet searched for other victims.

ALSO READ| Wildfires ravage Texas panhandle, emergency declared

The small town of Fritch, which lost hundreds of homes in a 2014 fire, was hit hard again. Mayor Tom Ray said on Wednesday that he estimated 40-50 homes were burned on the south side of the town, which has a population of 2,200.

Bill Kendall, the emergency management coordinator for Hemphill county, said about 40 homes were also burned near the town of Canadian. He said the burned landscape looked “like a moonscape. It’s just all gone.”

The fire has also killed hundreds of cattle, and more are expected to die or be euthanized. Texas agriculture commissioner Sid Miller said the number of cattle deaths could be in the thousands.

“There’ll be cattle that we’ll have to euthanize. They’ll have burned hooves, burned udders,” he stated.

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