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By Margaret Toal
For the Record 

Panhandle wildfires bring evacuations, warnings of fire hazards in East Texas

 

Last updated 2/27/2024 at 7:55pm

Different police and fire departments across Texas have mobilized units to help crews battle Smokehouse Creek Fire. Flower Mound Fire Department

As wildfires blazed across the Texas Panhandle region Monday afternoon, Governor Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties and warned that parts of East Texas also had an increased danger of wildfires. During the weekend, a few scattered wildfires were reported in Orange and Jasper counties, though they were able to be contained without spreading far.

The Panhandle fires by Tuesday afternoon had consumed more than 250,000 acres and were not under control. Evacuations were called in towns like Canadian and Tampa, were including evacuations of towns like Canadian and Tampa. However, by Tuesday evening, officials in Canadian were opening a school and asking residents to shelter there in place because fire had blocked the main escape route. Officials are hoping keeping people in one place will be safer to protect.

"I issued a disaster declaration today in order to ensure critical fire response resources are swiftly deployed to the Texas Panhandle being impacted by devastating wildfires," Governor Abbott said in a press release.

The response team includes the Texas A&M Forest Service with more than 95 firefighters, 25 fire trucks, bulldozers and graders, plus the Texas National Guard with a Chinook helicopter equipped to fight fires. Also, the Texas Department of Transportation has sent crews to help with road closures and deliver fuel for fire fighters. The Department of Public Safety has troopers assisting with traffic control and closures, the Texas Emergency Medical Task Force is sending paramedics and ambulances. Public services will also be available to help with agriculture and livestock needs.

The Texas A&M Forest Service Tuesday at noon reported wildfires of 11.4 acres in Newton County, plus 33 acres burning in Nacogdoches County and 7.7 acres on fire in Angelina County.

This past weekend, the U.S. Weather Service in Lake Charles warned of fire hazards because of low humidity and strong winds combined with dry winter vegetation. The danger decreased some on Monday as clouds moved in and raised the humidity, though winds remained gusty.

A slight chance of rain was in the forecast for Wednesday with higher chances of rain on Thursday night into Friday as a cold front comes through. Still, winds and gusts of 25 to 30 mph are forecast. If a cigarette butt or spark hits dry vegetation, a fire could start and spread because of the winds. Orange County, though, is not under a burn ban.

 

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