Texas is facing the second largest wildfire in US history

  • By Phil McCausland & Chloe Kim
  • BBC News, New York

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WATCH: Fire engine goes through Texas wildfires

A fast-spreading Texas wildfire killed one person, forced the evacuation of residents, knocked out power to homes and businesses and briefly halted operations at a nuclear power plant.

It has burned 1.1 million acres north of Amarillo — making it the second-largest wildfire in U.S. history.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties.

Dry grass, high temperatures and strong winds have fueled the fire, which is 3% contained.

In Hutchinson County, one of the hardest-hit areas, one person has died in the fire, public engagement coordinator Deitra Thomas told CNN. The woman was identified by her family as 83-year-old Joyce Blankenship — a former substitute teacher.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire, as it has been named, has already burned 1.1 million acres — larger than the state of Rhode Island.

The West Odessa Fire Department said on Facebook that it surpassed the East Amarillo Campus Fire, which burned more than 900,000 acres in 2006, as “now the largest and most destructive fire in Texas history.”

The department also said it was the second largest wildfire in US history.

According to the Forest Service, there are five active wildfires in the state, each burning tens of thousands of acres, melting lamp posts and reducing buildings to charred skeletons.

The Texas A&M Forest Service says wind speeds have dropped slightly and are helping to slow the fire's spread.

Rain and cooler temperatures are expected in the northern part of the state on Thursday, which will aid firefighting efforts.

Meanwhile, hundreds of firefighters and first responders have been dispatched to the affected area, Texas Emergency Management spokesman Seth Christensen said.

The Red Cross said it had opened a disaster center for one of the affected towns and would open another on Friday.

Governor Abbott on Wednesday authorized additional state resources to fight the blaze, including 94 firefighters, 33 fire engines and six air tankers.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire has prompted the evacuation of several towns, the Amarillo neighborhood and other communities, according to the Forest Service and local law enforcement.

The National Weather Service is warning residents near Amarillo to stay indoors with their pets due to poor air quality. Texas warns farmers about possible damage to crops and livestock.

The Potter County Sheriff's Office, which includes Amarillo, posted an announcement on Facebook Wednesday warning residents of the possibility of a mandatory evacuation.

“We'll knock on your doors to let you know you have to leave!” The message was told in all caps. “When it comes down to it, don't play around, get some stuff and come out.”

More than 85% of cattle in the state are reared in panchayats.

“I saw hundreds of dead cattle,” said Bill Kendall, Hemphill County emergency management coordinator.

One historic ranch in the state — the Turkey Track Ranch — is 120 years old, with 80% of its 80,000-acre property destroyed in the fire.

“We believe the loss of livestock, crops and wildlife, as well as farm fences and other infrastructure throughout our property and other farms and homes in the region, is unparalleled in our history,” the owners said in a statement.

In the affected area, more than 4,800 homes and businesses are without power, according to PowerOutage.us.

An Amarillo woman told The Texas Tribune she was preparing dinner when the smell of wildfire smoke wafted inside.

She was not injured, but a relative in another nearby town said she was stuck somewhere where the freeway exits were closed.

“I have a lot of family [in Fritch]. I have no clue if they're going to be okay,” said Brittany Struder.

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WATCH: Texas wildfires' aftermath resembles 'moon landscape'

Concerns about a fire spreading north of the Pantex nuclear weapons site in Amarillo forced a temporary shutdown and evacuation of employees Tuesday night. The plant is a major site for the assembly, dismantling and maintenance of US nuclear weapons.

Pantex said on Facebook that it had reopened Wednesday morning and that there was no fire at the plant site.

Laef Pendergraft, a nuclear safety engineer with the National Nuclear Security Administration's production office at Pantex, said at a news conference Tuesday night that an emergency response team had been activated.

The plant's own fire department is “trained for these situations,” he said.

Unexpectedly high temperatures led to wildfires in nearby states, including Nebraska and Kansas.

In Oklahoma, in the state's north, more than 30,000 acres have burned and at least 13 homes have been destroyed, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

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