Texas Issues Disaster Declaration As Wildfires Explode Across The State

The largest blaze was spurred by fierce winds and scorched more than 200,000 acres in one day. It was 0% contained by Tuesday evening.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a disaster declaration for dozens of counties across the state on Tuesday as wildfires scorched more than 250,000 acres, and prompted evacuation or shelter-in-place orders for thousands of residents.

The largest blaze, the Smokehouse Creek Fire, was burning out of control in the Texas panhandle and was 0% contained as of Tuesday evening. Flames spurred by strong winds ate through more than 200,000 acres of dry grassland in less than a day about 60 miles northeast of Amarillo.

Parts of Amarillo were shrouded in smoke while other towns, including the city of Fritch, Texas, were evacuated. Some areas, including the town of Canadian, were initially told to evacuate, but those alerts were altered to shelter-in-place orders as fires blocked the main roadway, according to The Texas Tribune.

“There were earlier evacuation orders, but it got to the point where the fire was close enough that it was no longer safe to travel on those roads,” Kari Hines, a public information officer for Texas A&M Forest Service, told the Tribune. “It’s safer to stay inside structures, at least while the main body of the fire passes.”

Abbott said his disaster declaration would allow the state to marshal resources as the first fire threatened local communities, but warned dangerous conditions would exist for days.

“I issued a disaster declaration today to ensure critical fire response resources are swiftly deployed to areas in the Texas Panhandle being impacted by devastating wildfires,” Abbott said. “The State of Texas stands ready to provide support to our local partners and deploy all resources needed to protect our fellow Texans and their property.”

“Hot and dry conditions caused by high temperatures and windy conditions are expected to continue in the region in the coming days,” he added. “These conditions could increase the potential for these wildfires to grow larger and more dangerous.”

Three other fires were burning in the area, although firefighters were able to bring them partially under control. A cold front was expected to move into the area, which could spur more strong winds and allow the blazes to spread.

Later Tuesday, at least two counties in Oklahoma told residents to evacuate after one of the fires in Texas jumped across state lines. Officials said the size of the wildfire and an expected change in wind threatened areas in Durham, Oklahoma.

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