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There have been two fatalities and up to 500 buildings destroyed in the unprecedented Texas wildfire.
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There have been two fatalities and up to 500 buildings destroyed in the unprecedented Texas wildfire.

Danny Phillips was left feeling powerless as his town was consumed by the biggest wildfire ever recorded in Texas.

He stated his voice shaking with sentiment that we had to witness our neighborhood burning from a distance of a few miles.

In his hard-hit town of Stinnett, population roughly 1,600, families like his who evacuated from the Smokehouse Creek fire – the most destructive blaze in the state’s history – returned on Thursday to devastating scenes: melted street signs and charred frames of cars and trucks. Homes reduced to piles of ash and rubble. An American flag propped up outside a destroyed house.

Phillips’ single-story house remained intact, yet unfortunately, many of his neighbors were not as lucky.

The destruction of Stinnett served as a reminder that, despite the help from falling snow on Thursday, firefighters are working tirelessly to extinguish the fire before higher temperatures and winds arrive in the near future.

Sadly, the Smokehouse Creek fire has resulted in two fatalities and has transformed the once flourishing prairie into a barren wasteland. The aftermath leaves behind charred land, deceased livestock, and destroyed residences in the Texas Panhandle.

The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, has stated that 500 structures may have been destroyed and efforts are underway to assess the extent of the damage.

“In a press conference in Borger, Texas, Abbott expressed his observation of the destruction that has taken place here – it is simply vanished, nothing remaining except for ashes scattered on the ground.”

The fire’s area remained constant on Friday, close to 1,700 square miles (4,400 square kilometers). It joined with another fire and is now 15% under control, an increase from 3% on Thursday, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

But conditions favorable for wildfires are expected to extend through the weekend in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico, according to the National Weather Service. Strong winds, relatively low humidity and dry conditions are creating conditions that the weather service said were “resulting in a significant threat for the rapid spread of wildfires”.

According to the NWS office in Amarillo, Texas, temperatures in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles are expected to reach a high of 80F (27C) this weekend, Saturday and Sunday specifically. Wind gusts of up to 50mph are also predicted for Sunday. Meanwhile, the relative humidity will remain around 5-10% throughout the entire weekend.

The Smokehouse Creek fire, which is one of the biggest fires in the rural Panhandle area of the state, has also spread into Oklahoma.

The forest service stated that the crews will concentrate on the fire’s northern perimeter and the vicinity of buildings.

The sky was dark and cloudy above a vast expanse of charred land in a countryside filled with sparse bushes, farmland, rugged valleys, and industrial oil equipment. Lee Jones, a firefighter, was aiding in extinguishing the lingering flames of houses in Stinnett, in order to prevent them from starting again due to the expected change in weather on Friday and throughout the weekend.

“We are grateful for the snow,” stated Jones, one of twelve firefighters brought in from Lubbock to assist. “We are systematically addressing all of the lingering areas in the city, specifically the homes already affected by the fires.”

Officials have not disclosed the cause of the fires, however, they were fueled by powerful winds, parched vegetation, and unexpectedly warm temperatures.

“The current precipitation of rain and snow is proving to be advantageous for us – we are utilizing it effectively,” stated Juan Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the Texas A&M forest service, when discussing the Smokehouse Creek fire. “With the reduced intensity and speed of the fire, firefighters are able to gain ground and access previously difficult areas.”

In the past, the most significant fire in California’s recorded history was the 2006 East Amarillo Complex fire. It encompassed approximately 1,400 square miles (3,600 square kilometers) and resulted in 13 fatalities.

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Two females have been officially declared dead as a result of the fires that occurred this week. However, as the flames continue to pose a threat to a large area, officials have not yet conducted a complete search for casualties or assessed the extent of damage to homes and other buildings.

Cindy Owen was traveling through Hemphill County in Texas on Tuesday afternoon when she came across a fire or cloud of smoke, according to Sergeant Chris Ray of the Texas Department of Public Safety. She exited her vehicle and was quickly engulfed in flames.

A bystander discovered Owen and alerted emergency personnel, who transported her to a burn unit in Oklahoma. Ray stated that she passed away on Thursday morning.

Family members have confirmed that Joyce Blankenship, a former substitute teacher, is the other victim identified in the incident. The remains of the 83-year-old woman were found in her burned home, according to her grandson, Lee Quesada, who was informed by deputies.

During his visit to the US-Mexico border on Thursday, Joe Biden stated that he instructed federal officials to provide all available support to communities impacted by the fires. This includes dispatching firefighters and equipment. The president also announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has promised to cover the emergency expenses of Texas and Oklahoma.

Greg Abbott, the Texas governor who represents the Republican party, declared a state of emergency for 60 counties and scheduled a visit to the Panhandle region on Friday.

Nim Kidd, the chief of the Texas division of emergency management, expressed that the weekend’s predictions and vast size and extent of the fire posed the greatest difficulties for firefighters.

Kidd emphasized the importance of not giving the community a false sense of security about the fires, as they are still actively evolving.

In the evening of Tuesday, the main site responsible for dismantling America’s nuclear weapons was forced to temporarily halt operations due to encroaching flames. However, by Wednesday, the facility was back to its usual work. According to the mayor, Tom Ray, the small town of Fritch, which had already suffered from a devastating fire in 2014, lost an additional 40 to 50 homes this week.

The commissioner of Texas agriculture, Sid Miller, stated that the impact on the area could be “devastating”.

Miller stated that independent cattle farmers could face severe damages, but he forecasted that the overall effect on the Texas cattle sector and the cost of beef for consumers would be insignificant.

According to Miller, the fires pose a danger to both people and property, as well as a significant threat to our agriculture sector. The Panhandle region, where over 85% of the state’s cattle are raised, is at particular risk. In some towns, the number of cattle actually exceeds the human population.

Source: theguardian.com