Updated Mar 4, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Texas faces fire threats through spring as largest-ever blaze 15% contained

A destroyed ranch home following the Smokehouse Creek Fire in Miami, Texas, on Sunday. Photo: Jordan Vonderhaar/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Smokehouse Creek Fire in Hutchinson County remained at 1,078,086 acres as firefighters managed to contain the wildfire to 15% as of Monday afternoon.

The big picture: The fire began as a fast-moving grass fire last Tuesday and exploded in size, to become the largest in state history.

  • A lack of winds and increasing moisture finally broke the bad fire weather conditions to help firefighters on Monday, per the National Weather Service's Amarillo office.

State of play: There are five active wildfires across the Texas Panhandle.

  • One of these blazes, the much smaller 687 Reamer fire, had also spread into the footprint of the Smokehouse Creek Fire, effectively merging the two fires.
  • The fire also has extended into Oklahoma. There has been one fatality associated with it, an 83-year-old grandmother that the AP reported was killed in Stinnett, Texas.
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties on Feb. 27 in response to the Smokehouse Creek Fire and several other wildfires burning in the Panhandle.
  • Texas A&M has touted the involvement of more than a dozen aerial tankers to battle the Smokehouse Creek Fire and others burning in the state.

Threat level: Fire environment conditions are expected to moderate through mid-week and cooler temperatures with less wind "will aid in the ongoing suppression efforts for active wildfires," according to a statement from the Texas A&M Forest Service.

  • "An underlying risk for new wildfires will continue in the Texas Panhandle and South Texas until spring green-up ... occurs in the abundance of grass vegetation found in these regions."

Between the lines: The Smokehouse Creek Fire beat Texas' 2006 East Amarillo Complex fire for the largest Texas wildfire title.

  • That fire killed a dozen people as it burned about 907,000 acres, and strong winds were also a key factor.
  • The Smokehouse fire erupted during a day of stark temperature contrasts and severe weather conditions from coast-to-coast, as longstanding warm temperature records were shattered from Texas to the Great Lakes.
  • Smoke from the Texas fire is being carried several states away, pushing north into the northern Plains.

The intrigue: In Texas, temperatures reached 82°F on Monday last week and 76°F last Tuesday, before crashing into the 30s by Wednesday with light snow falling.

  • This is the extreme environment in which the fire ignited and spread with astonishing speed.
  • These tremendous temperature contrasts yielded high winds across the country, including in northern Texas and western Oklahoma.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional developments.

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