Smokehouse Creek fire in Texas grows to 500,000 acres

Fires spread rapidly across Texas and Oklahoma on Wednesday, prompting evacuations and the closure of a plant that disassembles nuclear weapons.

Governor Greg Abbott of Texas released a disaster declaration Tuesday for 60 counties, activating state resources to help local firefighters. He urged residents to limit activities that could create sparks.

The largest current fire in the Texas Panhandle is the Smokehouse Creek fire, which was ignited Monday. By early Wednesday it had spread rapidly at least to 500,000 acresfueled by high winds and drought conditions, and was uncontrolled, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

That makes it the second largest in the state’s recorded fire history, Erin O’Connor, a spokeswoman for the Forest Service, said Wednesday. The largest was the Amarillo Complex in 2006, which burned about 1 million acres.

The Smokehouse Creek fire “is a significant fire,” Ms. O’Connor said. “It seems alarming how quickly it is spreading.”

At one point, fires appeared to encircle the Canadian city in the Texas Panhandle, a community of about 2,200 people northeast of Amarillo, near the Oklahoma state line. Residents who had not yet been evacuated were forced to shelter in place. The county sheriff warned that there were no open roads out of town.

Dozens of people took refuge inside a church, according to local news outlet, The Canadian Record. Others were offered the use of the local high school gym. Some residents simply stayed home and hoped for the best.

“There’s a lot of stuff that’s gone missing,” said Cody Cameron, 56, who said he and his wife were at home trying to pick up their three cats when roads in and out of Canada closed. were closed on Tuesday. The roads had reopened by Wednesday.

Part of the fire approached his yard overnight, Cameron said, but then was extinguished. “We were lucky,” he said.

The extent of the damage was not yet clear Wednesday. Homes on the outskirts of town appear to have been hit hardest, while those in the center of the community have been largely spared, according to The Canadian Record’s Laurie Ezzell Brown, who has been posting updates on his Facebook page.

“Among the many homes that were burned was the sheriff’s house,” he said, adding that the sheriff was out working and was not home at the time.

The fire was fueled by dry, dead grass in a drainage area, said Ms. O’Connor of the Forest Service, who called land like that “the perfect environment to support the growth we’ve seen” in the burned area.

Fires raged and moved erratically Tuesday as cold air with a rapid change in wind direction pushed through the region. Fire danger may ease Wednesday and Thursday, with lighter winds expected across the Texas Panhandle.

“Conditions will calm down a bit,” Ms. O’Connor said, which would give firefighters a chance to put out fires before Friday, when humidity is expected to drop again and strong winds will return.

Near Amarillo, a fire was burning north of the Pantex plant that dismantled nuclear weapons, officials said. The plant suspended operations and ordered the evacuation of non-essential personnel.

“They are working hand in hand with the local jurisdiction and taking precautions to ensure their facility is safe,” said Ms. O’Connor, the Forest Service spokeswoman.

There was no fire on the plant site or near its borders, but nuclear safety officials responded anyway, said Laef Pendergraft, a nuclear safety engineer for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s production office at Pantex. The plant has firefighters on site, he said at a news conference.

Unusually high temperatures and strong winds were also sparking fires elsewhere in the Great Plains, including Nebraska and Kansas.

Christina HauserMiglena Sternadori AND Judson Jones contributed to the reporting.