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Texas wildfires: 500 structures destroyed, governor says

The Smokehouse Creek Fire is already the biggest in Texas history and has spread into Oklahoma.

What to know about Texas wildfires

  • Wildfires in Texas have destroyed as many as 500 homes and structures, Gov. Greg Abbott said today. He warned that the number could grow.
  • The Smokehouse Creek Fire, covering an area larger than Rhode Island, is the biggest in Texas history.
  • The fire covers more than 1 million acres, or 1,600 square miles, and is 15% contained, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service, and covers tens of thousands of acres in Oklahoma.
  • Two people have been confirmed dead. Former substitute teacher Joyce Blankenship, 83, was found dead at her home, family members said. Cindy Owens, believed to be in her 40s, from Amarillo, died yesterday, two days after she got out of her truck in Canadian and the fire "overtook her," officials said.
  • There are three other active wildfires and the National Weather Service warns that heat and high winds are likely to cause "critical fire weather conditions again" over the weekend.
  • NBC News' Morgan Chesky and Guad Venegas are reporting from the region.

Texans warned to 'remain very vigilant' with the return of fire weather conditions

Katherine Itoh

Critical fire weather conditions are expected to return tomorrow in the Texas Panhandle, according to the National Weather Service, and officials are warning residents to “remain very vigilant” to prevent new fires from starting.

“Everybody needs to understand that we face enormous potential fire dangers as we head into this weekend. No one can let down their guard. Everyone must remain very vigilant,” Gov. Greg Abbott said this afternoon.

“Please do not get wrapped around the axle on containment percentages,” Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd urged. “I do not want that to lead you to a false sense of security. As far as fire weather through this weekend, it is going to be a very active weekend.”

The abundance of dry grass coupled with high temperatures, strong wind gusts and low humidity create an environment susceptible to fires, officials warned, adding that Texans should refrain from participating in outdoor activities that may cause sparks or flames.

“Over 90% of wildfires are human-caused. We’ve got to get the message out; no new starts,” Kidd said. “We do not want to divert resources from our existing fires onto a new start fire.”

At least 400 structures destroyed in Texas wildfires, Gov. Abbott says

Katherine Itoh

Hundreds of homes and structures have been destroyed by the Texas wildfires this week, Gov. Greg Abbott said this afternoon.

“Some early, and I will categorize as premature, assessments show that there are about 400 to 500 structures that have been destroyed,” he said, adding that the number could grow.

"When you look at the damages that have occurred here, it’s just gone. Completely gone. Nothing left but ashes on the ground," Abbott said during the news conference in Borger, Texas.

"Those who are affected by this have gone through utter devastation. They are going through challenges that others cannot comprehend. They need our ongoing support, our ongoing assistance and our ongoing prayers.”

Expect thousands of cattle deaths from fire, Agriculture commissioner warns

The Associated Press

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller estimated the cattle deaths would be in the thousands, with more likely to come.

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

Miller said individual ranchers could suffer devastating losses. But he predicted the overall impact on the Texas cattle industry and on consumer prices for beef would be minimal.

Video captures wildfire burning in Texas Panhandle

Katherine Itoh

The Texarkana Fire Department has shared a video taken in the last few days showing huge flames and billowing smoke in the Texas Panhandle region. 

Texarkana, located right across the Arkansas border, deployed firefighters to Hutchinson County earlier this week to assist in wildfire containment. 

Wildfires cause 'heart-wrenching devastation' in Oklahoma

Katherine Itoh

The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry shared photos of the "heart-wrenching devastation" left behind in Oklahoma from wildfires earlier this week.

Fire Weather Watch in western Oklahoma this weekend as firefighters continue to contain wildfires

Katherine Itoh

Firefighters improved containment on “significant fires” in western Oklahoma yesterday by leveraging precipitation and increased moisture, according to the Oklahoma Forestry Services Facebook post.

The highest fire danger indices today will develop in the Oklahoma Panhandle region. Firefighters continue to work on the uncontained large fires from earlier in the week, focusing on areas where heat-retaining vegetation is present near current control lines on the north and east flanks of the fires.

A Fire Weather Watch is in effect for areas of western and northwestern Oklahoma for Saturday and Sunday, as high temperatures, strong southwest winds and low humidity increase the potential for large fire occurrences, the Oklahoma Forestry Service report stated.

Smokehouse Creek Fire 15% contained

Katherine Itoh

The Smokehouse Creek Fire is 15% contained this morning. The Texas A&M Forest Service announced the 10% increase two hours after it said the fire was only 5% contained. The fire is still an estimated 1,075,000 acres in size.

Smokehouse Creek Fire 5% contained as of this morning

Katherine Itoh

The Smokehouse Creek Fire in Hutchinson County, Texas, is 5% contained as of this morning, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

The wildfire, which was 3% contained yesterday, received some precipitation and has not grown past the 1,075,000 burned acres already accounted for. Crews are focused on eliminating the northern edge of the Smokehouse Creek Fire and areas surrounding structures.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire is bigger than the top 20 California wildfires in the last 90 years

At 1.07 million acres, or 1,671 square miles, the Creekhouse Fire currently covering large parts of the Texas Panhandle and a portion of Oklahoma isn't just big, it's historically big.

The fire is larger that the top 20 biggest wildfires in California, according to statistics from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

That makes it bigger by surface area that the August Complex Fire in August 2020 that was caused by lightning strikes in the Mendocino National Forest, and reached 1.03 million acres.

The department's data goes back to 1932 and it admits there were bigger fires before this date — but in the modern era very little, if anything, can match the fire burning in Texas.

Critical fire weather to return from midday tomorrow

Critical fire weather conditions are expected to return from midday tomorrow and once again after sunrise Sunday, the National Weather Service office in Amarillo said. This includes very dry, hot winds of up to 40 mph.

"Please refrain entirely from outdoor activities that generate sparks or flames," the service said in a post on X this morning.

NWS

Abbott grants temporary waivers to state agencies for more efficient wildfire response

Katherine Itoh

Gov. Greg Abbott granted temporary waivers to three state agencies yesterday to respond more effectively to wildfires by using all available resources.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) will temporarily suspend rules to allow the efficient disposal of animal carcasses and remove potential obstacles to disaster recovery.

Several regulations on commercial vehicle permits are suspended for the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV), including interstate vehicle registration, 72-hour and 144-hour temporary registration permitting and oversize and overweight permitting.

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) waivers allow motor carriers additional hours without violating federal regulations and enhance efforts for lifesaving measures.

“Texas continues surging emergency response resources to fight rapidly expanding wildfires that are impacting Texans and communities across the state,” Abbott said in a press release. “By removing barriers to help Texans swiftly respond to this crisis, we will be able to serve more communities across our state that are being affected by these devastating wildfires.”

The temporary suspensions are granted to the extent the rules and requirements prevent, hinder or delay the state’s ongoing response and recovery. They are limited to counties in the governor’s disaster declaration.

Video captures sheer scale of smoke clouds from the Texas wildfires

A weather-watcher caught on camera the mind-boggling size of the smoke clouds generated by the wildfires in Texas yesterday.

Jeff Bartlett said on X: "You really can't imagine the scale. Wide-angle video just doesn't capture what you can see in person."

Deadly Texas wildfires, just 3% contained, scorch 1 million acres

Morgan Chesky

CANADIAN, Texas — As record wildfires continue to rage in Texas, a woman was killed after authorities say flames overtook her truck. The Smokehouse Creek Fire has now scorched more than 1 million acres. NBC’s Morgan Chesky reports for "TODAY."

Fires smolder along a highway in Canadian, Texas

Max Butterworth

A small fire burns along Highway 33 outside Canadian, Texas, yesterday as a remnant of the Smokehouse Creek Fire in Hemphill County.

A small fire burns along Highway 33 outside of Canadian, Texas, on Thursday as a remnant of the Smokehouse Creek Fire in
Michael Cuviello / USA Today Network via Reuters

U.S. Agriculture Department arranges meetings for affected farmers and ranchers

Anyone involved with agricultural businesses and has been affected by the Texas wildfires has been invited to two public meetings next week by the U.S. Agriculture Department.

The meetings are for "ranchers, livestock producers and landowners that have experienced loss of forage, agricultural improvements [and] infrastructure, and livestock due to the recent wildfires," an USDA notice said.

The first meeting is at Hemphill County Exhibition Center in Canadian on Tuesday at 1.30 p.m., while the second is on Wednesday at the Amarillo National Bank branch in Borger at 1.30 p.m.

Various initiatives, including some set up by local businesses, have already provided feed and fencing to stricken farmers.

Displaced Texans offered housing in new initiative

Displaced Texans who have lost their homes or been evacuated due to wildfires have been offered new housing as part of a quickly-assembled initiative from the Texas Housing Foundation and state Rep. Ken King.

The plan has already housed several families, the foundation said in a statement early today, as reported by the Canadian newspaper.

"Our hearts go out to everyone affected by the fires in the Texas Panhandle," said Allison Milliorn, the foundation's chief operation officer.

"Joint effort is an example of the strength and resilience of the community, King said. "Together, we will come out of this tragedy stronger."

Homes destroyed by Smokehouse Creek Fire

Max Butterworth

A firefighter works through smoldering debris of a home destroyed by the Smokehouse Creek Fire in Stinnett, Texas, yesterday.

Smokehouse Creek Fire
Julio Cortez / AP
The wildfire spreading across the Texas Panhandle became the largest in state history Thursday, as a dusting of snow covered scorched grassland, dead cattle and burned out homes and gave firefighters a brief window of relief in desperate efforts to corral the blaze.
Ty O'Neil / AP

Enormous Smokehouse Creek Fire shows few signs of stopping

The Associated Press

Patrick Smith and The Associated Press

With more than 1 million acres covered so far, an area larger than Rhode Island, the historic Smokehouse Creek fire is only 5% contained and was still raging across two states early today.

Authorities in the Texas Panhandle and parts of Oklahoma were battling to keep the blaze under control and to provide shelter to displaced families, as well as practical aid to the many farmers and ranchers who have seen their livelihoods and livestock damaged or destroyed.

So far, two people have been confirmed dead, but large parts of the remote and rural territory covered by the fire have yet to be surveyed.

On a visit to the U.S.-Texas border yesterday, President Joe Biden pledged to help affected communities.

“When disasters strike, there’s no red states or blue states where I come from,” he said. “Just communities and families looking for help. So we’re standing with everyone affected by these wildfires and we’re going to continue to help you respond and recover.”

Historic Texas wildfire burns more than 1 million acres

Guad Venegas

CANADIAN, Texas — The Smokehouse Creek Fire is now the largest in the state’s history and is only 3% contained. While cooler weather provided some relief, more hot, dry and windy weather is ahead. NBC News’ Guad Venegas reports.