Rapidly spreading Texas wildfire sparks evacuations, disaster declaration

Click to play video: 'After a warm winter, Canada may see more drought, wildfires in the spring'
After a warm winter, Canada may see more drought, wildfires in the spring
RELATED: After a warm winter, Canada may see more drought, wildfires in the spring

A rapidly widening Texas wildfire more than doubled in size Tuesday and prompted evacuation orders in small towns as strong winds, dry grass and unseasonably warm temperatures fueled the blaze in the state’s rural Panhandle.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties as the largest fire burned nearly 400 square miles (1,040 square kilometers), according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

That is more than twice its size since the fire sparked Monday. Authorities have not said what might have caused the blaze, which tore through sparsely populated counties surrounded by rolling plains.

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

The largest blaze, known as the Smokehouse Creek Fire, closed highways and remained 0% contained as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the Forest Service.

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In this photo provided by the Flower Mound, Texas, Fire Department, Flower Mound firefighters respond to a fire in the Texas Panhandle, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. A rapidly widening Texas wildfire doubled in size Tuesday and prompted evacuation orders in at least one small town. (Flower Mound Fire Department via AP).

Multiple fires were reported across Hemphill and Hutchinson counties, near the Oklahoma border. Texas state Sen. Kevin Sparks said an evacuation order was issued for the town of Canadian, a town of about 2,000 about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northeast of Amarillo, and other areas. Later Tuesday, the Hemphill County Sheriff’s Office urged anyone who remained in Canadian to shelter in place or at the high school gym because roads were closed.

About 40 miles (64 kilometers) southwest of Canadian, city officials in Pampa on Facebook suggested that residents evacuate to the south and said buses were available for that purpose. The Smokehouse Creek Fire was burning to the north.

To the west, at least some residents in the small city of Fritch were told to leave their homes Tuesday afternoon because of another fire that had jumped a highway.

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“Everything south of Highway 146 in Fritch evacuate now!” city officials said on Facebook.

The National Weather Service has issued red flag warnings and fire danger alerts for several other states through the midsection of the country, as high winds of over 40 mph (64 kph) combined with warm temperatures, low humidity and dry winter vegetation to make conditions ripe for wildfires.

In central Nebraska, a mower sparked a prairie fire that has burned a huge swath of grassland roughly the size of the state’s largest city of Omaha, state officials said Tuesday.

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