Smokehouse Creek Fire continues to burn amid hopes of rain later this week

The largest wildfire in Texas history has destroyed at least 500 structures.

By Sarah Asch & Glorie MartinezMarch 4, 2024 2:17 pm,

The Smokehouse Creek Fire, the largest wildfire in state history, is 15% contained and continues to burn in the Panhandle. A red flag alert for fire danger has expired, and there’s a possibility of rain in the forecast at the end of the week.

There have been at least two deaths attributed to the fires, an unknown number of livestock killed, at least 500 structures reported to be burned, and more than 1 million acres torched by the flames.

Over the weekend, evacuations were also ordered near the town of Sanford, and fire crews were building up defenses to protect the town against a flare-up in the area.

Rachel Osier Lindley, the Texas Newsroom’s senior editor, was in the Panhandle last week and said the structures destroyed include businesses, homes and ranch buildings, with estimates of up to 150 homes destroyed in the hardest-hit county of Hemphill.

“There had been concerns on Friday that the weather would pick up and create a very favorable environment to fire,” she said. “I talked with Juan Rodriguez of the Texas Forest Service, and he said that while conditions did get windier and warmer, they were able to keep containment lines strong and make good progress in slowing the progress of the Smokehouse Creek Fire.”

Evacuations in Sanford, a town of around under 1,000, were caused by a small fire that popped up in the vicinity, Osier Lindley said.

“The Amarillo Fire Department says that they were able to do some airdrops and get resources out there to slow the fire spread,” she said. “So as of right now, no structures have been lost there.”

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The airdrops are part of a multi-prong strategy to slow and contain the fire.

“There’s this dry grass all over the high plains, and that is burning very quickly. There hasn’t been a lot of rain. So they’re doing everything they can to slow the fire spread,” Osier Lindley said. “That includes putting fluids on it that will stop it from burning and bringing in a lot of bulldozers creating these basically walls.

“When you hear these containment percentages, that is the amount of land that they have basically created a line around the fire where the flames can’t jump from one side to another, blocking the spread of it through the grassland. So now that we have those resources out there, they can get ahead of it. They are trying to stop its progression with the wind picking up and it does start moving, it has nowhere to go.”

Osier Lindley also spent time talking to people who have been affected by the fire, especially in and around the town of Canadian.

“I went out to a ranch run by Tatum Pennington and her husband outside of Canadian, and she said that there was an outpouring of community support,” Osier Lindley said. “She described her ranch as completely decimated. They lost outbuildings. They lost cattle. The grassland was just black, as far as you can see.

“So many of these communities … are small and close-knit towns. So when somebody loses something, everyone has been rallying around and supporting them. And I heard so much from people that the road to recovery, it’s going to be long and hard to envision, but they know that people will be there to support each other.”

Looking to the week ahead, Rodriguez of the Texas Forest Service said the hope is rain will come in and help reduce the fire.

“There’s hope that that rain will come out in full force and really help put these fires to a final stopping point,” Osier Lindley said. “There are a lot of resources out there, both from all around the state of Texas, but even some people from out of state. I met some firefighters from Georgia who came to help.

“So there are a lot of resources there, which is good news, because it means that if there are more of these flare-ups, there are people and machinery and planes in place where they can put a stop to it.”

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