‘Devastating’ Texas wildfires spark disaster declaration, nuclear plant partial evacuation

Written by on February 28, 2024

Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via Getty Images

“Devastating” wildfires in Texas have prompted a disaster declaration for dozens of counties and evacuation orders in parts of the Texas Panhandle.

Gov. Greg Abbott declared a disaster declaration for 60 counties on Tuesday due to “widespread wildfire activity throughout the state.”

The declaration will ensure that fire response resources are quickly deployed to “areas in the Texas Panhandle being impacted by devastating wildfires,” Abbott said in a statement Tuesday.

According to an internal situation report from DHS/CISA, the “wildfires in northern Texas and western Oklahoma prompted a precautionary evacuation of non-essential personnel at the Pantex Nuclear Weapons Plant in Amarillo, TX. All special materials are safe and unaffected. There are no reported impacts to early voting in either state.”

“The Pantex Nuclear Weapons Plant in Carson County evacuated all nonessential personnel and paused operations until further notice due to the ongoing wildfires,” according to the report obtained by ABC News. “All weapons and special materials are safe and unaffected. The facility is approximately 13 miles from the Windy Deuce Fire.”

Additionally, the agency reports “the Smokehouse Creek fire crossed into northwestern Oklahoma, resulting in a hospital and nursing home evacuation in Shattuck, OK. Several state and local highways are also affected by the fires.”

The Texas A&M Forest Service had said it responded to 13 wildfires on Monday, with conditions on Tuesday ideal for more wildfire activity.

“Several large wildfires ignited under warm, dry and windy conditions across the Texas Panhandle,” the agency said on social media earlier Tuesday. “Today, strong winds will likely impact these wildfires and the potential for new ignitions remains.”

Fires continued to impact mainly the central and eastern portions of the Panhandles on Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Among the blazes, the Smokehouse Creek Fire in Hutchinson County has burned 250,000 acres and is 0% contained as of Tuesday evening, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. There was “extreme fire behavior” associated with the wildfire on Tuesday, with wind gusts up to 60 mph and flames as high as 20 feet in grass, a spokesperson for the agency told ABC News.

The Windy Deuce Fire in Moore County has burned an estimated 38,000 acres and was 20% contained as of Tuesday evening, fire officials said.

“Fire behavior continues to be very active under the influence of high winds,” the Texas A&M Forest Service said on social media.

More than 40 houses were damaged in Fritch, a city located in Hutchinson and Moore counties, since Monday, the city said. Parts of the city have been evacuated.

Mandatory evacuations are in effect for several towns and communities in the Amarillo region, including Skellytown, Wheeler, Allison and Briscoe, the National Weather Service said Tuesday evening. Voluntary evacuations are in effect for Pampa, it said.

Abbott warned that the wildfires could grow in the coming days as high temperatures and windy conditions continue.

“Texans are urged to limit activities that could create sparks and take precautions to keep their loved ones safe,” he said.

ABC News’ Josh Margolin contributed to this report.

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