Texas nuclear weapons facility pauses operations as wildfires spread | World News - Hindustan Times
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Texas nuclear weapons facility pauses operations as wildfires spread

AP |
Feb 28, 2024 10:26 AM IST

The main facility that assembles and disassembles America’s nuclear arsenal shut down its operations Tuesday night in Texas as fires raged out of control.

Rapidly moving Texas wildfires Tuesday prompted evacuation orders in small towns and shut down a nuclear facility as strong winds, dry grass and unseasonably warm temperatures fueled the blaze in the state's rural Panhandle.

Wildland Team members depart to operate amid the spread of fire. (Reuters)
Wildland Team members depart to operate amid the spread of fire. (Reuters)

The main facility that assembles and disassembles America’s nuclear arsenal shut down its operations Tuesday night in Texas as fires raged out of control nearby. Pantex issued a statement online saying it had paused operations until further notice.

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Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties as the largest fire burned nearly 400 square miles (1,040 square kilometers), according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. That is more than twice its size since the fire sparked Monday. Authorities have not said what might have caused the blaze, which tore through sparsely populated counties surrounded by rolling plains.

“Texans are urged to limit activities that could create sparks and take precautions to keep their loved ones safe,” Abbott said.

Read Here: Wildfires ravage Texas panhandle, prompt emergency declaration

The largest blaze, known as the Smokehouse Creek Fire, closed highways and remained 0% contained as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the Forest Service.

“We have evacuated our personnel, non-essential personnel from the site, just in an abundance of caution," said Laef Pendergraft, a spokesperson for National Nuclear Security Administration’s Production Office at Pantex, during a news conference Tuesday night. "But we do have a well-equipped fire department that has trained for these scenarios, that is on-site and watching and ready should any kind of real emergency arise on the plant site.”

Since 1975, Pantex has been the U.S. main assembly and disassembly site for its atomic bombs. It assembled the last new bomb in 1991. In the time since, it has dismantled thousands of weapons.

Pantex is located about 17 miles (27.36 kilometers) northeast of Amarillo and some 320 miles (515 kilometers) northwest of Dallas.

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Multiple fires were reported across Hemphill and Hutchinson counties near the Oklahoma border, where some evacuations were also ordered.

Texas state Sen. Kevin Sparks said an evacuation order was issued for the town of Canadian, a town of about 2,000 about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northeast of Amarillo, and other areas. Later Tuesday, the Hemphill County Sheriff's Office urged anyone who remained in Canadian to shelter in place or at the high school gym because roads were closed.

Evacuations were also ordered in nearby Miami, and schools in Canadian and Miami announced closures Wednesday. East of Canadian, fire officials across the border in the area of Durham, Oklahoma, also encouraged people to evacuate because of the fire.

Evacuations were also happening in Skellytown, Wheeler, Allison and Briscoe, according to the National Weather Service in Amarillo.

About 40 miles (64 kilometers) southwest of Canadian, city officials in Pampa on Facebook suggested that residents evacuate to the south and said buses were available. Officials said personnel were still fighting the fire Tuesday night but that residents of Pampa could return home.

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“They were able to get the fire stopped north of town,” weather service officials said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

To the west, at least some residents in the small city of Fritch in Hutchinson County were told to leave their homes Tuesday afternoon because of another fire that had jumped a highway.

“Everything south of Highway 146 in Fritch evacuate now!” city officials said on Facebook.

Officials with Hutchinson County emergency management and in the nearby city of Borger, which had also been evacuated, posted Tuesday night on Facebook places where evacuees could shelter in both cities. They said so many fires were burning in the county that it was “extremely hard” to keep everyone on the same page while they respond on the front lines.

“We have areas without power, water, and active burning,” the post said. “Pray for the safety of all involved. And pack your go bag just in case. That is the best information we know how to provide right now.”

On Tuesday evening, the fires were 20 to 25 miles (32 to 40 kilometers) from Amarillo, and wind was blowing wildfire smoke into the city, which could affect people with respiratory issues, weather service officials said.

The National Weather Service issued red flag warnings and fire danger alerts for several other states through the midsection of the country, as high winds of over 40 mph (64 kph) combined with warm temperatures, low humidity and dry winter vegetation to make conditions ripe for wildfires.

In central Nebraska, a mower sparked a prairie fire that has burned a huge swath of grassland roughly the size of the state's largest city of Omaha, state officials said Tuesday.

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