Texas Panhandle wildfire grows to the second-largest in state history

The Smokehouse Creek Fire in Hutchinson County is now the second-largest wildfire in Texas history. It could soon become the largest ever recorded in state history, as there are concerns about additional fire potential as conditions trend warmer and drier going into the weekend.

The fire, fueled by hot weather and high winds, grew from 300,000 acres on Tuesday to 850,000 acres by Wednesday afternoon. 

For comparison, the state of Rhode Island is about 776,960 acres.

The wildfire is currently just 3% contained.

The Smokehouse Creek fire is one of five large wildfires currently burning in the Texas Panhandle. Of the five fires burning, the Smokehouse Creek fire has already burned more acres than all wildfires combine to burn in a typical year.

Wednesday night, officials confirmed the first fatality from the fires.

An 83-year-old woman was found dead in her home in the town of Stinnet, 70 miles northeast of Amarillo.

The images from the Panhandle are heartbreaking, as the flames put rural communities in jeopardy.

"I'm taking this video from this angle because my town is in danger, and it's burning, and frankly, I'm just going to say I'm sad right now," said Eagle Press editor Tara Huff.

Huff described the fluid situation in Moore County, north of Amarillo, where the flames are still spreading.

"I am very sorry for the homes that are already lost and the ones we're going to lose, but man, you've gotta go," she said.

The fast-moving Smokehouse Creek fire forced evacuations and triggered power outages as firefighters struggled to contain the widening flames.

People who live in the area are describing their harrowing escapes.

"We went through, I bet, 30 miles of what I can only describe it as a lunar landscape, just absolute barren desert," said Greg Downey, who lives in Canadian.

Officials began to assess the damage in the Panhandle on Wednesday.

With the fires still burning, the ability of emergency crews to assess the damage is still limited, but crews are warning residents to expect large amounts of property damage.

"We can confirm we did lose some structures [Tuesday]," said Adam Turner, a Public Information Officer with the Texas A&M Forest Service.

That includes areas like Fritch, which lost hundreds of homes in a 2014 fire.

"The easiest way to put this is, I don’t think a lot of the folks that live in the Fritch area are going to be prepared for what they see as they pull into town," said Deidra Thomas, with the Hutchinson County Office of Emergency Management.

For those who were able to see their property firsthand, it was a difficult sight.

"It's still emotional. This is our life. I mean, we've been here for 50 years, and it's pretty tough," Downey said.

The encroaching flames caused the main facility that disassembles America’s nuclear arsenal to pause operations Tuesday night, but it was open for normal work on Wednesday.

Turner is in the Amarillo area and says the so-called Southern Plains Wildfire Outbreak is feeding off the weather conditions.

"We have lots of really high winds and low humidities, with higher temperatures, and it can cause these really massive fire growths," he said.


Conditions improved slightly Wednesday, giving fire crews an opportunity to catch up before the potential of worsening conditions as we approach the weekend.

"Our goal [Wednesday] is to take advantage of better weather conditions and work to increase that containment, so our fire crews are all going out and working to build containment lines," Turner said.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties. On Wednesday, he directed the Texas Division of Emergency Management to deploy additional resources to the area.

The Texas Interstate Fire Mutual Aid System was activated and several firefighters from North Texas have been called into action to help with the efforts.

Fort Worth, Flower Mound, Frisco, Dallas, Grand Prairie, Plano, and Greenville firefighters are currently in the Panhandle.

They share a common goal: to contain the fire and keep affected Texans out of harm's way.

"When we have an event like this, we just need an influx of engines or additional firefighters. We can request those resources to come and support us," said Turner. "Our goal today is to take advantage of better weather conditions and work to increase that containment."

The official cause of the fires has not been determined at this time.

Gusty winds should help efforts to put out the flames.

Strong winds in the area are expected to drop to 15 to 25 miles per hour.

The drop will be short-lived.

Temperatures are expected to rise back into the 70s with 30 mph winds on Friday.

Largest Fire in Texas History

The largest fire in Texas history was the East Amarillo Complex fire of 2006, which burned 907,245 acres, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

  1. East Amarillo Complex (2006) - 907,245 acres
  2. Smokehouse Creek (2024) - 850,000 acres
  3. Big Country (1998), 366,000 acres
  4. Perryton (2017), 318,156 acres
  5. Rockhouse Fire (2011) 314,444

Map of Texas Wildfires 2024


You can look at an interactive map from the Texas A&M Forest Service here.

FOX Weather and the Associated Press contributed to this report