Firefighters face difficult weather conditions as they battle the largest wildfire in Texas history

STINNETT, Texas — Firefighters battling the largest wildfire in Texas history face increasingly difficult weather conditions Saturday.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire that started Monday has killed at least two people, left a charred landscape of scorched prairie and dead livestock and destroyed as many as 500 structures, including burned homes, in the Texas Panhandle.

The National Weather Service in Amarillo issued a red flag warning for the entire Panhandle from late Saturday morning through midnight Sunday after rain and snow helped firefighters contain part of the blaze Thursday.

“A combination of strong winds, low relative humidity and warm temperatures will create favorable weather for rapid fire growth and spread,” the weather service forecast said.

“Critical fire conditions are expected to return … as winds from the southwest gust to 40 to 45 miles per hour and humidity drops below 10 percent,” the forecast said, with a high temperature of 75 degrees F (24 degrees C ).

The fire, which has merged with another blaze and crossed the state line into western Oklahoma, has burned more than 1,500 square miles and was 15% contained.&M Forest Service said Friday.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, although strong winds, dry grass and unseasonably warm weather fueled the flames.

“Everyone needs to understand that we are facing enormous potential fire hazards this weekend,” Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday after touring the area. “No one can let down their guard. Everyone must remain very vigilant.”

Two women have been confirmed dead in the fires this week. But with flames still threatening a wide area, authorities have not yet conducted a thorough search for victims or for homes and other buildings that have been damaged or destroyed.

Two firefighters were injured while battling flames in Oklahoma. One suffered heat-related injuries and the other was injured when the brush pump he was driving struck a tanker truck while the two were on their way to fight the fire near Gage.

Both firefighters are expected to recover.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said individual farmers could suffer devastating losses from the fires, but predicted the overall impact on Texas’ cattle industry and consumer beef prices would be minimal.

The number of dead cattle was not known, but Miller and local ranchers estimated the total could be in the thousands.


Vertuno reported from Austin, Texas. Associated Press journalists Ty O’Neil in Stinnett, Texas, Jamie Stengle in Dallas and Ken Miller in Oklahoma City contributed.