Record Deadly Texas Wildfires Continue to Spread out of Control

March 1, 2024
The Smokehouse Creek Fire, the largest wildfire in state history, has left at least two dead.

Lana Ferguson

The Dallas Morning News


PAMPA — Wildfires continued to engulf the Texas Panhandle and parts of Oklahoma on Friday as officials were concerned warming temperatures and growing winds may elevate fire conditions going into the weekend.

The Smokehouse Creek fire, which ignited Monday, has burnt through more than 1 million acres becoming the largest wildfire in state history.

The fire — which grew in size after merging with a smaller 687 Reamer fire ― is among the largest in the Lower 48 since record-keeping began in the 1980s. The West Odessa Volunteer Fire Department noted on Facebook that the fire is the second largest in U.S. history.

Two deaths have been reported as of Thursday. Joyce Blankenship, 83, was killed in her home in Stinnett, her family said. Cindy Owens died of injuries she suffered in the fires near Pampa, according to a GoFundMe.

As the sun rose Friday, melting away any snow leftover from the day before, signs of the devastation were left behind in the fires’ tracks.

A herd of cattle grazed beneath a small windmill on a ranch bordering state highway 70 in Roberts County while dead cows lay nearby along the fence line, one of the visible contrasts of where the fire scorched and the areas that were spared.

The region is known for its agriculture with its ranches being home to more than 80% of the state’s cattle. Officials say hundreds and thousands of cattle died in the fires.

Officials haven’t declared a cause for the cluster of blazes, but the region has experienced unseasonably warm temperatures, dry conditions and gusty winds.

Gov. Greg Abbott is scheduled to speak with other state and local officials Friday afternoon in Borger.

Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties Tuesday and directed the Texas Division of Emergency Management to deploy additional state emergency resources the following day.

Evacuations were ordered for nearly a dozen towns. Some of those orders were lifted or reduced to voluntary evacuations with checkpoints.

A few fires were still burning across the Panhandle, according to the latest updates from the Texas A&M Forest Service:

  • The Smokehouse Creek fire in Hutchinson County is an estimated 1,075,000 acres and 5% contained.
  • The Windy Deuce fire in Moore County is roughly 142,000 acres and 55% contained.
  • The Grapevine Creek fire in Gray County was about 30,000 acres and 60% contained.
  • The Magenta Fire in Oldham County is estimated to be 3,300 acres and 85% contained.

Crews hoped to make progress on containing the fires Wednesday and Thursday as conditions were more favorable to suppressing the flames. Snow and sleet helped spread moisture into areas that needed it the most and were hard for firefighters to reach.

On Friday, fire conditions were expected to elevate with the combination of high winds, rising temperatures and decreasing humidity.

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