Texas wildfires: Officials warn the state's largest wildfire could worsen over the weekend

  • By Brandon Drennan & Nadine Yusif
  • BBC News, Washington

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Richard Murray surveys the charred land after the historic Texas wildfires swept through his town.

Officials in Texas have warned that the state's largest wildfire could burn further into the weekend with high winds in the forecast.

Two people and thousands of cattle have died as the fire continues to burn out of control.

The 1.1 million-acre Smokehouse Creek Fire devastated cattle ranches, destroyed homes and left a black landscape in its wake.

As of Friday afternoon, the fire was only 15% contained.

Gov. Greg Abbott urged people to be vigilant and “not to let their guard down.”

“Everybody needs to understand that we are facing tremendous fire hazards as we go into this weekend,” he told a news conference on Friday.

Fire weather watches were issued as firefighters rushed to put out fires in Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle from Saturday through midnight Sunday.

Most of the Texas fires — including the massive Smokehouse Creek fire — are in the Texas Panhandle, the northern part of the state, which is a vast area of ​​cattle ranches.

The land is not dense but millions of cows, calves, deer and bulls are reared in the region.

Governor Abbott said initial damage estimates show between 400 and 500 buildings have been destroyed by the fire.

“Looking at the damage here, it's gone, completely gone, nothing but ash on the ground,” Mr Abbott said.

Thousands of animals are believed to be dead, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said Thursday.

“My guess is, but it's going to be 10,000 that will either die or we'll have to euthanize,” he said.

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WATCH: Fire engine goes through Texas wildfires

“It's sad. Those cattle are still alive, but their legs are burned, the teats in their udders are burned. It's a sad, sad situation.”

Texas is the nation's largest cattle producer, and more than 85% of the state's cattle are in the Panhandle.

Cattle farmers in the area struggled on Thursday to save themselves and their cattle as the fire engulfed the grasslands around them.

“It's hard to see,” Jeff Chisum, a 600-cow Texas rancher, told the New York Times.

His wife, Lee Sissum, described the devastation on Facebook, writing that she was “run over by baby calves standing alone in black, desolate pastures with dead cows littering the roads.”

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Picture of Stinnett, Texas after the Smokehouse Creek Fire

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Aerial view of Canadian, Texas

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Texas has 12 million head of cattle.

Texas officials said the losses could be devastating for individual producers as pastures and farm buildings for food are destroyed. Governor Abbott said nearby counties and states have donated hay to affected areas, but they continue to face shortages.

However, the overall impact, including prices at the grocery store, would be negligible, Texas A&M extension economist David Anderson told the BBC.

“Because the fire is still burning, we don't have good numbers yet on what the losses are — but based on the entire herd and industry in the U.S., it's going to be relatively small,” he said.

Texas Emergency Management spokesman Seth Christensen said hundreds of firefighters and first responders were deployed to affected areas, including cities such as Amarillo and Fritch.

The Red Cross is currently operating two disaster centers for those affected by the wildfires.

In Hutchinson County, one of the hardest-hit areas, 83-year-old Joyce Blankenship died in her home as wildfires engulfed her town.

Another female victim was truck driver Cindy Owen. The 44-year-old was driving home from Oklahoma to Amarillo when the fire engulfed his truck, The Texas Tribune reported.

She died in hospital a day later.

Oklahoma, the US state north of Texas, has burned more than 30,000 acres and destroyed at least 13 homes, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

With files from Natalie Sherman in New York

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