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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Texas Panhandle wildfires merge, become largest in state history at over 1 million acres

In this handout photo provided by the Texas A&M Forest Service, fire crosses a road in the Smokehouse Creek fire on Wednesday evening in the Texas panhandle.  (Texas A&M Forest Service via Getty Images/TNS)
By Lana Ferguson and Jamie Landers Dallas Morning News

FRITCH, Texas – Multiple wildfires scorching the Texas Panhandle had merged as of Thursday morning, creating “the largest and most destructive” blaze in state history at more than one million acres burned.

The Texas A&M Forest Service said the largest of the fires, the Smokehouse Creek fire in Hutchinson County, was an estimated 1,075,000 acres and 3% contained as of 10 a.m. Thursday. The 687 Reamer fire, which stood Thursday at roughly 2,000 acres, burned into the Smokehouse Creek fire, the service said.

The fire, which sparked Monday, has exceeded the previous record for the state’s largest wildfire. The now second largest, the East Amarillo Complex fire, burned about 907,000 acres in March 2006, according to historical data.

“This is now both the largest and most destructive fire in Texas history,” the West Odessa Volunteer Fire Department said in a Facebook post. “It is also the second-largest wildfire in U.S. history.”

Officials were working at least five other active wildfires Thursday, including the Windy Deuce Fire in Moore County, which was an estimated 142,000 acres and 30% contained, according to the forest service.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday directed the Texas Division of Emergency Management to deploy additional state emergency resources, just one day after he issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties. Evacuations were ordered in Canadian, Glazier, Double Diamond, Arrowhead Addition, Maverick Village, Alibates, McBride, Mullinaw and Harbor Bay.

The forest service also raised wildland fire preparedness to level 3, expecting wildfire activity will increase over the next several days.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller told The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday the fires had already killed up to “tens of thousands of head of cattle” and closed at least 13 school districts.

“It’s really bad,” Miller said. “It’s going to get worse.”

Crews from across the state have traveled to the Panhandle to help contain the fires, including 15 firefighters with the Fort Worth Fire Department, who said they could stay as long as two weeks.

Officials haven’t declared a cause for the cluster of blazes, but the region has experienced unseasonably warm temperatures, dry conditions and gusty winds.

Celebration Family Church in Fritch served as one of the hubs for people impacted by the fires to get donated bottles of water, toiletries and a hot meal. The church opened its doors to the community as soon as the fires began, church elder Bobby Mack told The News.

“It makes me heart happy to see people bringing donations, but also hurts my heart to see all the people hurting,” Mack, who has lived in Fritch his entire life, said.

As snow flurries fell outside Thursday morning, lightly coating roofs and grass, an American Red Cross representative visited the church.

“Looks like y’all have a great setup here,” the representative said to Mack.

“We’re doing what we can,” he replied.

Courtney Kirksey, a pastor at the church alongside her husband Dwight, said the church served a similar purpose after fires devastated the town in 2014. Kirksey said she’s happy it’s a place where people feel safe.

“It’s a blessing circle, all the way around,” she said.