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At least one dead in fast-moving Texas Panhandle fires

Responders in Texas were fighting to contain five fast-moving fires that had scorched more than 1 million acres. Photo courtesy of Texas A&M Forse Service/X
Responders in Texas were fighting to contain five fast-moving fires that had scorched more than 1 million acres. Photo courtesy of Texas A&M Forse Service/X

Feb. 29 (UPI) -- At least one person has died as a result of wildfires that have scorched more than a million acres in northern Texas, officials said.

The Texas A&M Forse Service shows that as of early Thursday, five fast-moving wildfires were burning near the Texas Panhandle city of Amarillo.

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The Smokehouse Creek fire in Hutchinson County, which began Monday, has grown to 850,000 acres by Wednesday night, making it the second-largest wildfire in Texas history. It exploded from 500,000 acres a day prior. As of early Thursday, it was only 3% contained.

Officials in Hutchinson County have confirmed that the fire has killed at least one person, 83-year-old Joyce Blankenship. She died at her home in Stinnett where the fire has damaged at least 20 structures.

Sixty-four counties in the state have burn bans in place, and the Wildland Fire Preparedness Level was raised Wednesday to level three on its five levels of warning, stating that several regions were being affected by wildfires.

Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott on Tuesday issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties in response to the wildfires, and on Wednesday he directed the Texas Division of Emergency Management to deploy additional resources to support wildfire response operations.

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"I encourage Texans in affected areas to heed the guidance of local officials and first responders and to take all necessary precautions to keep your family and loved ones safe," he said in a statement.

Of the five fires, the second largest was the Windy Deuce fire in Moore County at 142,000 acres, followed by Gray County's Grape Vine Creek fire at 30,000 acres, the Magenta fire in Oldham County at 2,500 acres and the 687 Reamer fire also in Hutchinson County at 2,000 acres.

Pantex Plant, the United States' primary nuclear weapons factory near Amarillo, on Tuesday, had dismissed non-essential workers and canceled shifts due to wildfires near the plant, but Wednesday night announced that operations had returned to normal.

"There is no imminent wildfire threat to the plant at this time," it said in a statement.

In Canadian, Texas, which is located near the Oklahoma border, the school district canceled classes for the remainder of the week, but said its facilities will remain open "for any families who need to bring their kids in while parents deal with fire-related or any other issues."

Its plan is for classes to resume on Monday.

In neighboring Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt said on X that he has activated emergency response teams.

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"As we keep a close eye on wildfires across the state, the safety of our fellow Oklahomans is the top priority," he said in a statement.

"Please pray for the safety of first responders and our neighbors."

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