Texas wildfires: Deadly Texas fires burn 1 million acres — largest in state history — and inferno rages

(CNN) – A devastating wildfire sweeping across the Texas Panhandle has killed at least two people and threatens to destroy more homes, livestock and livelihoods as the largest inferno in state history continues to engulf more land by the minute.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire has now burned more than 1 million acres in Texas alone, making it the largest on record in the state. The fire had burned more than 31,500 acres in Oklahoma as of Thursday evening, according to the state's Forest Service. Overall, the fires are the largest in the Lower 48 since reliable recordkeeping began in the 1980s.

Inferno is one of three fires burning in the Texas Panhandle — with no end in sight.

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Although the region received light rain on Thursday, dry air and Strong winds are expected to return Friday and the weekend – may fuel the flames.

The wildfire has already burned about 2,000 square miles — roughly the same size as the entire state of Delaware.

Smokehouse Creek fire kills two Cindy Owen was found dead in Hemphill County, Chris Ray, a Texas Department of Public Safety sergeant, told CNN.

In Hutchinson County, 83-year-old Joyce Blankenship died in the fire, her family said.

“The house is gone,” said his grandson, Nathan Blankenship. “There's no way she can get out.”

Power outages are a major concern, with North Plains Electric Cooperative saying it is “reconstructing approximately 115 miles of the line.”

David Erickson/AP

A telephone pole burned from the Smokehouse Creek fire in Texas, Canada on Wednesday.

In Hemphill County alone, 400,000 acres have burned, scores of homes have been destroyed and thousands of livestock have died, said Andy Holloway, Hemphill County AgriLife Extension agent. According to agriculture officials, more than 85% of cattle in Texas are raised on the Panhandle.

In addition to Mammoth Smokehouse Creek FireThe Air duct fire 142,000 acres have burned in Texas and were 50% contained as of Thursday afternoon.

• The Smokehouse Creek fire that jumped into Oklahoma is now 40% contained, Oklahoma Forestry Services spokesman Keith Merks told CNN Thursday evening.

The Grapevine Creek Fire 30,000 acres burned and 60% contained.

The Magenta fire Still burning, more than 2,500 acres are 65%.

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The 687 Reamer fire More than 2,000 acres burned before joining the Smokehouse Creek fire on Thursday.

President Joe Biden on Thursday pledged to help victims of the wildfires, while using his remarks to call out his “Neanderthal friends” who don't believe in climate change.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott authorized additional state resources to fight the blaze, including 94 firefighters, 33 fire engines and six air tankers.

A farm with a 120-year history says 80% of its nearly 80,000 acres have burned. The Turkey Track FarmAlso the site of the Battle of the Adobe Walls of 1864 and 1874, nicknamed the Price of the Panhandle. “The loss of livestock, crops and wildlife, … as well as other farms and homes throughout the region, is, we believe, unparalleled in our history,” the Turkey Track Ranch Family Group said in a statement.

According to a news release from Texas Parks & Wildlife, the Smokehouse Creek Fire is 98% contained within the 5,394 acres of the Jean Howe Wildlife Management Area along the Canadian River on the northern rolling plains of Hemphill County.

At least 13 homes have been destroyed in Oklahoma, a state emergency spokesman told CNN. Governor Kevin Stitt has activated emergency response teams. “As we closely monitor wildfires across the state, the safety of our fellow Oklahomans is a top priority,” he posted on X.

• Two firefighters for the Texas Panhandle city of Pampa in Gray County were treated for minor injuries in a fire Monday night, Pampa Community Services Director Dustin Miller told CNN Thursday.

The city of Fritch, Texas is under a boil water advisory “It's difficult to do because many residents are without electricity and gas,” Hutchinson County announced. Officials said water bottles are being handed out at many churches and other places.

Amarillo National Bank is launching a Panhandle Disaster Relief Fund with a $1 million donation for wildfire victims, according to a release from the financial institution.

A sudden change in wind direction caused the Smokehouse Creek Fire to explode in size on Tuesday. As of Thursday, only 3% remained in Texas.

“The wind came straight out of the north and moved a huge wall of fire across the landscape,” Texas A&M Forest Service spokesman Adam Turner said Wednesday.

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Greenville Fire Rescue

Greenville Fire-Rescue firefighters drive near the Smokehouse Creek fire that threatened the Texas towns of Canadian and Wheeler on Tuesday.

In the town of Fritz, threatened by several wildfires, Frank Probst makes sure his elderly neighbors escape before they evict him – with almost no time left.

“Our main concern was getting them out first. We were the last to get out,” Propst told CNN.

His family was unable to grab any of their belongings before fleeing the devastating inferno.

“It happened very quickly. By the time the evacuation sirens went off, it was too late,” he said. “We jumped in the car and took off.”

Nick Oxford/Reuters

Mason Holloway and Hugh Lively search for the remains of a relative's home destroyed by the Smokehouse Creek Fire in Texas, Canada, on Wednesday.

Tyler McCain and his family woke up to smoky skies over Fritch on Tuesday, so they drove across town to his grandparents, he said. When it became clear the fire was getting worse, McCain's wife returned to the family home to get their two dogs.

When she arrived at her block, she found two of her neighbors' houses on fire. She retrieved the pets and the family stayed overnight in Amarillo.

On Wednesday, the parents and their three daughters returned to a pile of ash and rubble.

Courtesy Tyler McCain

Tyler McCain's home has been reduced to charred ruins.

A tearful McCain told CNN that seeing her 3-year-old daughter Addison crying at their home broke her. “Things can change, but it's hard to see your children being ripped out of their lives like that,” she said.

Addison can't stop hearing about losing her home. “She keeps talking about all the things we've lost, and now she's like, 'Dad, are you going to build me a new house?'

McCain regrets not taking enough supplies before they leave. “I keep asking myself why I don't like everything she asks for? Her favorite stuffed animal, why don't I get that for her?” he said.

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In Hutchinson County — where the Smokehouse Creek, Windy Deuce and 687 Reamer fires are burning — at least 20 structures were destroyed in Stinnett, a few outside Borger and “some structures” in Fritch, a county official said Wednesday.

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Probst said the Fritch resident, who helped his neighbors and later fled, returned to his neighborhood Wednesday. His home, bought six months ago, is gone, along with all the neighborhoods he passed through on his way to Amarillo, where his family will stay until they figure out what's next.

Truck driver Cindy Owen, 44, was working Tuesday about 50 miles north of Pampa, Texas, when the Smokehouse Creek Fire swept through the area, her sister-in-law told CNN.

“She couldn't breathe, she got out of the truck and tried to run for safety and didn't make it,” said Jennifer Mitchell, who is married to Owen's brother.

Owen was on video chat when it happened, so family members looked for someone to help him, Mitchell says.

“She was found with burns that covered 90% of her body,” Mitchell said.

Family photo

Undated photo of Cindy Owen.

Hemphill County rescuers were able to reach Owen and took him to INTEGRIS Burn Center in Oklahoma City for treatment, Mitchell said. CNN reached out to the hospital for comment, but did not hear back.

“She fought all day (Wednesday) … we were very positive at the end of the day that her life was coming back and she could hear us even though she was unconscious and on a ventilator,” Mitchell said. “But she fought until the last minute … that's who she is.”

Her sister-in-law did not come all night.

Mitchell said she has known Owen since dating her husband 16 years ago.

“Cindy was just Cindy. She was one of a kind,” Mitchell said. “She would do anything for anybody.”

According to Mitchell, she would give coats to people when they were cold, give food, money or clothes to the homeless, and help stray dogs. Owen also had a large family.

“He showed up to everybody's birthday parties and everybody's kids' stuff,” Mitchell said. “She was everybody's friend, everybody knew her. … Nothing bad could be said about her. She was just the best person ever.

Owen lives with his fiancee, Elaine Sanchez, Mitchell said.

CNN's Brandon Miller, Carol Alvarado, Amanda Jackson, Monica Garrett, Sharif Paget, Sarah Tonks, Lucy Kafanov, Andy Babineau, Andy Rose, Mary Gilbert, Samantha Waldenberg and Christina Zadanovich contributed to this report.

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