Explosive Texas fire more than doubles in size; threatens towns and forces evacuations

Mary Gilbert, CNN Meteorologist | 2/27/2024, 2:30 p.m.
An out-of-control wildfire is threatening Texas Panhandle towns and forcing residents to evacuate.
A wildfire burns northwest of Canadian, Texas, on Tuesday, February 27. Mandatory Credit: Courtesy Miguel Lira/Booker Grocery Cafe & Catering via CNN Newsource

An out-of-control wildfire is threatening Texas Panhandle towns and forcing residents to evacuate.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire more than doubled in size, scorching more than 100,000 acres of land since igniting Monday afternoon, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

The blaze is being driven by gusty winds and fueled by dry, unseasonably warm conditions. It’s moving so rapidly it’s burning through nearly a football field of ground per second.

Evacuations were ordered early Tuesday afternoon for parts of Hemphill and Roberts counties as the fire encroached on populated areas. This includes the town of Canadian, Texas, around an hour and half northeast of Amarillo, Texas. Parts of Fritch, Texas, which straddles both Roberts and Hutchinson counties, is also under an evacuation order, city officials said.

A robust cold front is forecast to slice through the area Tuesday night and will cause the wind direction to shift, which could force fires to spread in new directions.

More than 11 million people in the south-central US are under red flag warnings Tuesday as springlike warmth, gusty winds and dry air create dangerous fire weather.

Texas and Oklahoma are in the epicenter of some of the most dangerous conditions.

Multiple large wildfires ignited in the Texas Panhandle Monday under similar dry, warm and windy conditions.

At least 77,135 acres were scorched by 13 wildfires in Texas Monday, according to the the forest service. The majority of the damage was done by four fires in the state’s Panhandle: the Smokehouse Creek Fire, the Grape Vine Creek Fire, the Windy Deuce Fire and the Juliet Pass Fire.

All four fires were still burning Tuesday, but three remained difficult to contain as erratic fire behavior – driven by gusty winds of 40 to 60 mph – challenged firefighters.

As of Tuesday afternoon, these fires are:

Smokehouse Creek Fire: 100,000 acres burned (0% contained)

Grape Vine Creek Fire: 30,000 acres burned (15% contained)

Windy Deuce Fire: 8,000 acres burned (20% contained)

The Juliet Pass Fire was 90% contained on Tuesday afternoon after burned nearly 3,000 acres.

Fire weather conditions are expected to ease during the day Wednesday in the wake of the cold front. Winds across the Texas Panhandle may remain breezy for a time early Wednesday, but are expected to gradually calm through Wednesday evening.

However, with little to no wet weather in the forecast through the weekend, firefighters will not have a helping hand from Mother Nature.