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One death reported as wildfires rage across Texas panhandle

By AFP - Mar 01,2024 - Last updated at Mar 01,2024

This handout photo courtesy of the Flower Mound Fire Department taken on Thursday, shows a firefighter battling the Smokehouse Creek Fire, near Amarillo, in the Texas (AFP photo)

HOUSTON — Wildfires raging across north Texas reportedly killed at least one person on Wednesday, as firefighters struggled to control one of the largest blazes in state history which has destroyed property and prompted evacuations.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire in Texas’ panhandle, a flat northern area known for its prairies and smattering of small towns, was listed as only three percent contained by the Texas A&M Forest Service.

The enormous blaze, which spread following harsh winds and unseasonably warm temperatures, has already scorched some 850,000 acres (344,000 hectares).

In the small town of Stinnett, an 83-year-old grandmother died in the fire, a Hutchinson County official told local media, adding that at least 20 structures in the community had been destroyed.

Some (100 kilometres) to the east in the town of Canadian, home to some 2,300 people, there were “quite a few homes burned,” Mayor Terrill Bartlett told CNN, but “luckily, no one was severely injured.”

According to CNN meteorologist Chad Myers, the fire was moving at a rate of two football fields per second.

In total the state’s five active fires, all in the panhandle, have burned more than one million acres. As of Wednesday night, another 18 fires had been contained.

The National Weather Service in Amarillo, the biggest regional city, said Wednesday that cool temperatures “with weak winds” were expected, which authorities hope will aid them in fighting the fires.

In the town of Borger, authorities shared images of smoldering areas that had been devastated by fire, including several buildings consumed by flames.

Town officials said they had opened a shelter for those displaced, while evacuation orders were issued for much of the nearby town of Fritch, where large swaths of the area had lost electricity and water.

“I don’t think a lot of folks that live in the Fritch area are probably going to be prepared for what they’re going to see as they pull into town,” Hutchinson County Emergency Management spokeswoman Deidra Thomas said in a video update posted on Facebook earlier in the day.

“There are still homes that are on fire.”

Governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday declared a state of disaster for 60 counties, while blazes near the northern city of Amarillo temporarily caused the shutdown of a nuclear weapons plant.

President Joe Biden meanwhile was receiving updates on the incident and the White House was in contact with frontline staff, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Amarillo experienced serious air quality issues as winds pushed smoke into the area on Tuesday.

Cities across the United States and Canada saw record February temperatures this week, with some experiencing summer-like heat. An El Nino weather pattern is at play, in addition to climate change, according to experts.

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