Largest Blaze in Texas History among Wildfires Impacting Texas Panhandle

Several massive wildfires, including one that became the largest in Texas history, rapidly expanded in the Texas Panhandle during the last week of February, prompting evacuations and power outages as it spread across nearly 800 square miles from the central Panhandle into neighboring Oklahoma. Fueled by strong winds, dry conditions, and high temperatures, the fire has remained uncontained, posing a significant threat to several small towns.  

As of February 29, the 850,000-acre Smokehouse Creek Fire was only 3% contained. Additional ongoing fires include the 142,000-acre Windy Deuce Fire, currently 30% contained; the 30,000-acre Grapevine Creek Fire, currently 60% contained; and the 2,000-acre Reamer fire, currently 10% contained.   

Authorities have confirmed one fatality so far: an 83-year-old grandmother and substitute teacher in Stinnett who was found in her destroyed home. Local emergency management agencies have reported extensive property damage, with early reports indicating that 40 homes have been destroyed by fire outside Canadian, TX, and 40 to 50 homes have burned down in Fritch, TX. At least 13 homes have been destroyed by fire in Oklahoma. As of February 29, 5,300 households remained under evacuation orders. The American Red Cross has opened several emergency shelters in the Panhandle region to assist evacuees and displaced households. Governor Greg Abbott has declared a disaster in 60 counties and deployed over 600 responders to fight the fires. FEMA has approved Fire Management Assistance Grants for the largest fires in the area and has activated its Search and Rescue teams. 

Texas typically sees its largest fires between January and May, as prairie grasses freeze dry over the winter, but the current dry conditions were exacerbated by wind gusts as high as 70 mph and abnormally high temperatures. A forecasted change in weather might offer some relief for firefighters after February 29, with a drop in temperatures and snow expected soon.  

The situation remains dire in affected areas, and officials are urging residents to be ready for sudden evacuation.