Wildfires across the Texas Panhandle force residents to evacuate, seek shelter

By Jayme Lozano Carver, The Texas Tribune
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties as the state battles wildfires. Photo courtesy of Flower Mound Fire Department/X
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties as the state battles wildfires. Photo courtesy of Flower Mound Fire Department/X

Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Officials have ordered nearly 5,000 residents in the Panhandle cities of Canadian, Fritch and Glazier to shelter in place Tuesday as four separate wildfires engulfed the region, burning more than 280,000 acres.

Residents in Hemphill County, where Canadian is, were initially told to evacuate as the Smokehouse Creek fire -- the largest of the four -- spread and burned more than 250,000 acres within a day. As firefighters worked to contain the fire in Canadian, about 100 miles northeast of Amarillo, evacuation efforts hit a snag as the main roadway was blocked by the fire.


Shortly after the mandatory order was announced, the Hemphill County Sheriff's Office shared on social media that Highway 60/83 was shut down. The sheriff's office instructed residents to go to the gym at Canadian High School to shelter in place.

"Having them all in one place is the safest option at this time," said Stephanie Purcell, a representative for the sheriff's office.


Purcell said the wind could possibly push the fire towards Highway 33 in Canadian as well.

"There were earlier evacuation orders, but it got to the point where the fire was close enough that it was no longer safe to travel on those roads," said Kari Hines, a public information officer for Texas A&M Forest Service. "It's safer to stay inside structures, at least while the main body of the fire passes."

Hines said crews have responded from across the state and are working in long shifts to contain the fire before taking breaks to rest. With a cold front coming in, Hines said firefighters are preparing for another shift in the winds that might move the fire further.

Photos and videos on social media show the small towns surrounded by smoke billowing into the air, turning the sky a brown hue, as the fires continued. In Stinnett, the wildfire has already burned more than 250,000 acres since it started on Monday afternoon. It was not contained as of Tuesday afternoon.

The High Plains region was under a red flag warning to start the week, as warmer temperatures were expected along with strong winds. According to the Texas A&M Forest Service, the Smokehouse Creek fire started in tall grasses, and wind gusts that ranged from 40-50 miles per hour pushed the fire toward Pampa, about 40 miles southeast.


The Grape Vine Creek fire near Pampa in Gray County is the second biggest active fire threatening the region. It also has not been contained by firefighters yet, and has burned 30,000 acres. Pampa city officials were suggesting voluntary evacuations as of Tuesday afternoon.

The City of Fritch in nearby Hutchinson County has been evacuated.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration covering 60 counties in response to the wildfire activity, calling for the Texas Division of Emergency Management to send additional resources and firefighters to the Panhandle.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune. Read the original here. The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans -- and engages with them -- about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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