Fire Crews Struggle to Contain Panhandle Wildfire

Firefighters work to put out hot spots
Firefighters work to put out hot spots as wildfires continue burning in the Texas Panhandle. | Image by Texarkana Texas Fire Department/Facebook

Fire crews struggle to contain wildfires burning in the Panhandle as weather conditions threaten to spread the blaze.

Charlie Patterson, incident commander of the Southern Area Incident Management Blue Team, updated The Dallas Express on the efforts crews are making to prevent the fires from spreading south.

The update included information that a northerly wind threatens to push the fires into unburned areas, and dry conditions are challenging the crews to gain ground.

Of the four fires, the Smokehouse Creek Fire is by far the largest and the least under control, as reported by The Dallas Express, and is already the largest wildfire in the state’s history. The fire has burned over 1 million acres since it sparked on February 26, about a mile from Stinnett, Texas. The fire is responsible for two deaths and has consumed approximately 500 structures. It is also causing significant destruction to the beef cattle industry in North Texas.

As of March 4, 181 firefighters are working the Smokehouse Creek Fire. The crews have eight engines and 36 bulldozers at their disposal. The most challenging areas of the fire are along the northern perimeter, which features a landscape of canyons, making access to the hot spots difficult. Crews are primarily working along the southern edge of the fire, bulldozing grasslands and setting fire lines to prevent the fire from continuing to spread. This blaze is 15% contained at this time.

The Windy Deuce fire is burning south from Lake Meredith, which also began on February 26. That fire has spread to more than 144,000 acres, but 55% is contained in the latest update. There are 209 firefighters deployed on the fire lines, 28 engines and two bulldozers. As with the Smokehouse Creek Fire, crews are concerned about winds spreading the fire to the south and, as such, are primarily deployed along that edge.

The Grape Vine Creek Fire is the smallest of the three notable blazes and is the most contained. It is burning several miles south of Pampa and is currently 60% contained. Five engines and 28 firefighters are assigned to manage this blaze. Crews are working the east edge of the fire to keep it from spreading.

Special aircraft that are dropping fire retardants and water to prevent the fires from spreading are assisting the crews on the ground. Three large air tankers are also in operation, joined by two scoopers, six single-engine tankers, two Chinook helicopters, a Blackhawk helicopter, and a Type 3 helicopter. The large tankers and helicopters fly out of Abilene, while the single-engine aircraft operate out of Dumas and Childress.

Patterson’s update indicates that the weather is somewhat better on March 4 than it was the day before. Humidity ranges are higher, and the grasses have more moisture content, aiding crews in slowing the fire’s movement. The report cautions that flames that are 5 to 7 feet tall can move up to three-quarters of a mile per hour.

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