The flames threaten populations in Texas, which is registering one of the largest fires in its history

The flames threaten populations in Texas, which is registering one of the largest fires in its history


CANADIAN, Texas (AP) — Several wildfires were burning in far northern Texas, including one that became one of the largest fires in state history and was moving at an alarming speed while turning black the landscape of cattle ranches and small towns.

An 83-year-old woman from the small community of Stinett was the only confirmed death, although authorities had not yet conducted an exhaustive search for victims and had warned of considerable damage in some towns.

The weather forecast gave firefighters some hope: lower temperatures, less wind and perhaps rain on Thursday. However, the situation at some points was difficult on Wednesday.

The Smokehouse Creek fire, the largest, spread to more than 1,300 square miles (3,370 square kilometers) and crossed into parts of neighboring Oklahoma. It was already larger than the state of Rhode Island, and the Texas fire service said the flames were barely 3% contained on Wednesday.

“I think the fire will grow before it is completely contained,” said Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

The largest fire on record in the state was the East Amarillo Complex fire in 2006, which burned about 1,400 miles (3,630 square kilometers) of land and left 13 dead.

The strong wind drove walls of fire while smoke rose in large clouds over the sparsely populated region. The smoke delayed the aerial assessment of damage in some areas.

The deceased woman was identified by family members as Joyce Blankenship, a former substitute teacher. Her grandson, Lee Quesada, said she had gone to a local forum to ask if anyone could try to locate her. Quesada said police had told her uncle on Wednesday that they had found Blankenship’s charred remains in her burned home.

The governor, Republican Greg Abbott, issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties. The flames caused the main US facility that dismantles nuclear arsenal to stop operations on Tuesday night, although it had resumed operation on Wednesday.

Hemphill County Emergency Management Coordinator Bill Kendall said the burned land was like “a moonscape… There’s nothing left.”

Kendall said about 40 homes burned around the town of Canadian, but no buildings were lost within the community. He noted that he had also seen “hundreds of dead cattle” in the fields.

The small town of Fritch, north of Amarillo, lost hundreds of homes in a 2014 fire and appeared to have suffered again. Mayor Tom Ray said Wednesday that an estimated 40 to 50 homes were destroyed in the south end of the town of 2,200 people.

Neighbors are likely “unprepared for what they are going to see if they come home,” said Deidra Thomas, a spokeswoman for emergency management in Hutchinson County, in a live message on social media. She compared the damage to a tornado.

Authorities have not said what caused the fires, but strong wind, dry grasses and unusually high temperatures fueled the flames.

Winds were expected to pick up again on Friday and fire-friendly weather could return by the weekend, said Peter Vanden Bosch, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Amarillo.

Kidd said the main challenges for firefighters were the “enormous size and breadth” of the fires.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire spread from Texas to neighboring Roger Mills County in Oklahoma, where authorities urged residents in the Durham area to evacuate. At least 13 homes burned in the western end of the state, authorities said Wednesday.


Vertuno reported from Austin, Texas. Associated Press writers Ken Miller in Oklahoma City, Lisa Baumann in Bellingham, Washington, and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.


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