At least 1 dead as large wildfires sweep through the Texas panhandle, including the second-largest blaze in state history

CNN:   The second-largest fire in Texas history continues to burn Thursday, with the blaze – already bigger than Rhode Island – and several others destroying scores of homes in the state’s panhandle and killing at least one person and thousands of cattle.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire has burned nearly 900,000 acres in Texas and Oklahoma since igniting Monday, officials say. The massive inferno is the biggest of five large fires burning in the region.

One person was killed when flames swept through the Scotts Acres neighborhood in Stinnett, Hutchinson County Public Emergency Management Coordinator Deidra Thomas said Wednesday.

Thomas didn’t identify the victim, but the family of Joyce Blankenship, 83, told CNN she died at her house as the Smokehouse Creek Fire swept through. Family members tried contacting the grandmother on Tuesday but didn’t get a response. On Wednesday, they received word Blakenship had died.

“The house was gone,” her grandson, Nathan Blankenship, said. “There was no way she could’ve gotten out.”

A resident in the town of Fritch said they had to escape one of the wildfires quickly but not before taking care of their elderly neighbors. “Our main concern was getting them out first. We were the last ones out,” Frank Probst said.

Probst’s family wasn’t able to grab any of their belongings before they had to rush to safety, he told CNN.

“It happened so quick. By the time the evacuation sirens went off, it was too late,” he said. “We just jumped in the car and took off.”

In addition to the Smokehouse Creek Fire, which has burned 850,000 acres in just Texas, the Windy Deuce Fire in that state has burned 142,000 acres and the Grape Vine Creek Fire has charred 30,000 acres. Two other fires have burned 2,500 or fewer acres each.

A sudden shift of wind direction in the Texas panhandle this week contributed to the explosion in size of the Smokehouse Creek Fire. “Wind was coming straight out of the north and made just this massive wall of fire moving across the landscape,” Texas A&M Forest Service spokesperson Adam Turner said Wednesday afternoon.

The fire exploded in size Wednesday, from 500,000 acres to 850,000 acres, fire officials said. It is 3% contained.

While the weather – much lighter winds – was more favorable to fighting the fires Wednesday, the forecast for Friday calls for elevated to critical fire weather conditions to develop across the area through Monday due to strong winds and low relative humidity values, along with continued drying of things that fuel the fire.

Snow was expected in some areas of the Panhandle on Thursday but was not forecast to be in places affected by the fire.


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