Texas is still burning, deadly wildfire claims two lives - Hindustan Times
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Texas is still burning, deadly wildfire claims two lives and torches more than 500 structures

Mar 02, 2024 07:21 AM IST

Smokehouse Creek fire, the most destructive wildfire in Texas history, claims 2 lives and engulfs vast areas in the Panhandle and Oklahoma.

The Smokehouse Creek fire, the most devastating wildfire in Texas history, has claimed the lives of two women and ravaged a vast area of the Panhandle and Oklahoma.

Texas emergency crews were struggling February 29 to contain the largest wildfire in the US state's history, with the blaze killing at least two people and scorching a million acres as it raged out of control. (Photo by J. Griffin / Texas A&M Forest Service / AFP)(AFP)
Texas emergency crews were struggling February 29 to contain the largest wildfire in the US state's history, with the blaze killing at least two people and scorching a million acres as it raged out of control. (Photo by J. Griffin / Texas A&M Forest Service / AFP)(AFP)

The fire, which has burned nearly 4,400 sq km, is still threatening many homes and structures, and authorities have not been able to fully assess the extent of the damage or the number of casualties.

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One of the victims was Cindy Owen, who was driving in Hemphill County, south of Canadian, on Tuesday afternoon when she encountered the fire or smoke. Sgt Chris Ray of the state’s Department of Public Safety said she got out of her truck and was engulfed by the flames.

A passerby found Owen and alerted the first responders, who took her to a burn unit in Oklahoma. She succumbed to her injuries on Thursday morning, Ray said.

The other victim was Joyce Blankenship, an 83-year-old former substitute teacher. Her grandson, Lee Quesada, said deputies informed his uncle on Wednesday that they had found Blankenship’s remains in her charred home.

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Deadly Texas wildfire scorches more than 1 million acres

The raging wildfire has also left behind a bleak scene of scorched prairie, dead cattle and burned-out homes in the Texas Panhandle. Texas’s governor, Greg Abbott, said up to 500 structures may have been destroyed by the fire, and that damage assessments are under way.

“When you look at the damages that have occurred here, it’s just gone, completely gone, nothing left but ashes on the ground,” Abbott said at a news conference in Borger, Texas.

The fire, which has merged with another fire, is now 15% contained, up from 3% on Thursday, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. However, the weather conditions are expected to worsen over the weekend, creating a high risk of more wildfires in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and New Mexico, according to the National Weather Service.

The fire will be more menacing by weekend

The NWS office in Amarillo, Texas, said the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles will experience temperatures as high as 80F (27C) on Saturday and Sunday, with wind gusts reaching 50mph by Sunday. The relative humidity will be very low, between 5-10%, all weekend.

The Smokehouse Creek fire is the largest of several major fires burning in the rural Panhandle section of the state, and it has also spread into Oklahoma. The forest service said crews will concentrate on the fire's northern edge and the areas around structures.

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The fire has turned the rural area home to scrub brush, ranchland, rocky canyons and oil rigs into a wasteland of blackened earth and gray skies.

Authorities have not revealed the cause of the fires, but they have been fueled by strong winds, dry grass and unseasonably warm weather.

The previous record for the largest fire in Texas history was the 2006 East Amarillo Complex fire, which burned about 1,400 sq miles (3,600 sq km) and killed 13 people.

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