February 27-28, 2024 -- Smokehouse Creek Fire in Texas

By Christina Maxouris, Elizabeth Wolfe, Eric Zerkel and Mary Gilbert, CNN

Updated 2:04 a.m. ET, February 29, 2024
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1:01 a.m. ET, February 29, 2024

Weather improvements in Texas Panhandle will be short-lived, National Weather Service says

From CNN's Robert Shackelford

Damage to a property burned by the Smokehouse Creek Fire is seen on February 28, in Canadian, Texas. 
Damage to a property burned by the Smokehouse Creek Fire is seen on February 28, in Canadian, Texas.  Julio Cortez/AP

Poor weather conditions that could fan the flames of the Texas fires are forecast to ramp up Friday and peak over the weekend, according to a forecast from the National Weather Service in Amarillo.

Following a cold front Tuesday night that quelled the growth of the fires, providing a slight reprieve for firefighters, gusty winds and dry air are expected to return to the Texas Panhandle through the weekend.

High temperatures are forecast to be between 70 to 80 degrees from Friday through Sunday, similar to temperatures at the time of the most extreme fire growth Tuesday. Wind gusts as high as 45 mph are forecast for this weekend, compared to gusts up to 65 mph during the fire-conducive weather Tuesday.

Here's what the weather is expected to look like in the Texas Panhandle for the rest of this week:

Wednesday night: Low temperatures will be in the low 30s, with winds from 5 to 15 mph.

Thursday: Rain and snow showers are possible, with Amarillo potentially seeing less than an inch of snow. High temperatures will be in the upper 40s to low 50s, about 10 degrees lower than the average high for the area this time of year. Winds will strengthen to 15 to 20 mph, with gusts up to 30 mph.

Friday: Temperatures leaping into the upper 70s, dry air and turbulent winds will bring back dangerous fire weather conditions. Winds will increase to 10 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 25 mph.

Saturday: The Storm Prediction Center could declare an elevated risk of fire weather for the area as higher wind gusts and dry air persist. High temperatures could reach 80 degrees, and winds are expected to increase to 20 to 25 mph with gusts as high as 37 mph.

Sunday: Above-average temperatures remain, with highs into the upper 70s. An even higher level of fire weather risk may exist because of the combination of dry air along with strong wind gusts peaking as high as 45 mph. Winds will pick up slightly from 20 to 30 mph.

11:45 p.m. ET, February 28, 2024

More than 100 miles of power lines need to be rebuilt, one power company says

From CNN's Joe Sutton

An electricity provider that serves seven Texas Panhandle counties said it will need to restore approximately 115 miles of power lines that were in the path of wildfires.

The North Plains Electric Cooperative assessed the damage caused by the fires that burned through several of its rural power lines, knocking out electricity to some customers, it said.

“Our lines serve the area surrounding (the city of) Canadian, and there is extensive damage around the outskirts of the town and in the rural areas all the way to Glazier," the company's general manager, Randy Mahannah, said earlier Wednesday.

At least two of the company's employees have lost their homes in the fires, Mahannah said.

As of Wednesday night, nearly 1,000 of the approximately 7,500 homes and businesses served by North Plains Electric were without power, mainly in Hemphill County, which includes the city of Canadian, according to the company's outage tracker.

The company said it aims to have power fully restored by Monday.

11:28 p.m. ET, February 28, 2024

“Thousands of cattle will be lost" to the fires, Texas county official says

From CNN's Dave Alsup and Amanda Jackson

Cattle gather in a field as smoke billows near an area burned by the Smokehouse Creek Fire, Wednesday, on February 28, in Canadian, Texas.
Cattle gather in a field as smoke billows near an area burned by the Smokehouse Creek Fire, Wednesday, on February 28, in Canadian, Texas. Julio Cortez/AP

Wildfires tearing through the Texas Panhandle are decimating precious farmland and leaving scores of dead cattle in their wake, a county official told the agricultural news publication Farm Progress.

“Thousands of cattle will be lost to this massive wildfire,” Hemphill County AgriLife Extension Agent Andy Holloway told Farm Progress.

"I know one rancher near (the city of) Canadian who lost 280 mama cows. They were calving so many of those are pairs. Another rancher lost more than 300 and one lost 50 or more 2-year-old replacements,” Holloway said.

In an email to CNN, Holloway said, “Just in my Hemphill County, Canadian, Texas ... scores of homes destroyed and thousands of dead cattle.”

Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said Wednesday that the state's Panhandle is crucial to its agriculture industry.

“These fires not only threaten lives and property but will also have a substantial impact on our agriculture industry. Over 85% of the state’s cattle population is located on ranches in the Panhandle. There are millions of cattle out there, with some towns comprising more cattle than people," Miller said in a news release.

The damage could be "catastrophic," Miller said. "Farmers and ranchers are losing everything.”

10:48 p.m. ET, February 28, 2024

Catastrophic wildfires in the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma have charred more than 1 million acres

From CNN's Rachel Ramirez, Brandon Miller and Joe Sutton

At least five wildfires were threatening communities in the Texas Panhandle as of Wednesday night, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service Incident Viewer.

The largest, the Smokehouse Creek Fire, has scorched 850,000 acres in Texas and has also stretched into Oklahoma, where it has burned nearly 31,600 acres as of Wednesday afternoon, according to an Oklahoma Forestry Services spokesperson. The blaze is closing in on the largest fire on record in Texas: the East Amarillo Complex fire, which burned 907,245 acres in 2006.

Since Monday, over 1,057,000 acres have been burned by the fires across both states, according to officials, with burned acreages still growing as most of the fires have little to no containment.

As of Wednesday night:

Smokehouse Creek Fire

  • 850,000 acres in Texas
  • 31,590 acres in Oklahoma
  • 3% contained

Windy Deuce Fire

  • 142,000 acres
  • 30% contained

Grape Vine Creek Fire

  • 30,000 acres
  • 60% contained

Magenta Fire

  • 2,500 acres
  • 65% contained

687 Reamer Fire

  • Hutchinson County
  • 2,000 acres
  • 10% contained

9:06 p.m. ET, February 28, 2024

"It's all she knows." Father describes heartbreak as his toddler cries for their incinerated home

From CNN's Sharif Paget

Tyler McCain's home was reduced to rubble as fire tore through Fritch, Texas.
Tyler McCain's home was reduced to rubble as fire tore through Fritch, Texas. Courtesy Tyler McCain

Tyler McCain became emotional as he told CNN he and his family are "living in limbo" after fire reduced their home in the Texas Panhandle town of Fritch to rubble and ash Tuesday. But what's really gnawing at him is trying to explain the loss to his tearful 3-year-old.

His toddler, Addison, can be seen crying in the family's car in a heartbreaking video posted on Facebook. 

"Why are you crying?" McCain asks her. 

"I want (the) house," Addison says through gulping sobs. Her father consoles her, saying, "We'll get another house, OK?"

The McCains and their three daughters -- the others 1 and 9 years old -- were able to evacuate before flames engulfed their neighborhood, but they weren't prepared for what they found when they returned to the home Wednesday, he said.

"I pulled into the driveway and started shaking," he said. His wife yelled in anguish. He recalls thinking, "It's gone. My house is gone."

Seeing Addison cry over the home and ask for her burned belongings has broken him, McCain said.

"Everything she keeps asking for, I ask myself why I didn't grab that. Her favorite stuffed animal -- why didn't I get it for her?" the father said. 

McCain does not know what comes next. He fears that whatever the family's fire insurance covers will be used to pay the mortgage. For now, they have several family members to rely on for a safe place to stay.

"I keep telling myself to feel thankful and blessed that the fire did not spread in the night when we were sleeping," McCain said. "A house is a house, but we're all together and that's where home is."

8:00 p.m. ET, February 28, 2024

Fritch resident says by the time sirens went off, it was too late to gather belongings before evacuating

From CNN's Jillian Sykes

Frank Probst shared video of his destroyed home in Fritch, Texas.
Frank Probst shared video of his destroyed home in Fritch, Texas. Courtesy Frank Probst 

Frank Probst bought his home in Fritch, Texas, six months ago, and on Tuesday watched it enveloped in flames in his rearview mirror as his family evacuated from an encroaching wildfire.

“My grandson had hollered at me about a fire, and I turned around and the flames were kind of rolling up over the roof behind me,” Probst said of his home in Fritch, roughly 40 miles northeast of Amarillo. An official has said "quite a few structures" were destroyed in Fritch, which also was dealing with power and gas outages.

Probst said he immediately went to check on his elderly neighbors right as the evacuation sirens went off Tuesday. They focused on getting the neighbors out first, and they were the last ones out, he said.

“It was in the rearview mirror. The flames rolled and it took my whole neighborhood at once,” Probst said of his Fritch home.

Probst’s family wasn’t able to grab any of their belongings before they had to rush to safety, he said.

“It happened so quick. By the time the evacuation sirens went off, it was too late," he said.

With fire still surrounding the nearby roads, Probst said he, his wife, and their 6-year-old grandson had to sleep in the parking lot of a local grocery store Tuesday night.

Probst on Wednesday returned to where his home once stood.

“It’s all gone,” he said.

The Probst family is staying at a motel in Amarillo for now, and he said most of the homes they passed to get there have been destroyed. 

“Entire neighborhoods just gone,” Probst said.

10:37 p.m. ET, February 28, 2024

Official: 1 death reported in Hutchinson County

By CNN's Joe Sutton, Caroll Alvarado and Amanda Jackson

Nathan Blankenship and his grandmother Joyce Blankenship in 2015.
Nathan Blankenship and his grandmother Joyce Blankenship in 2015. COURTESY Nathan Blankenship

One person has died as a result of a wildfire in hard-hit Hutchinson County, a county official said Wednesday afternoon.

“We do have one confirmed fatality from the Scotts Acres (neighborhood in Stinnett),” Hutchinson County Public Engagement Coordinator Deidra Thomas said.

While Thomas didn't identify the victim, the family of Joyce Blankenship, 83, told CNN she died at her house in Stinnett.

Blankenship’s step-grandson, Lee Quesada, said she was well-known and beloved in the small community. Her husband, Jimmy, died in 2015. 

“She used to be a substitute teacher in the area before she became a housewife while Jimmy worked at the local Phillips refinery,” Quesada said. “She will be missed by all."

Her other grandson, Nathan Blankenship, told CNN he and his father tried calling her several times on Tuesday as a massive fire swept through the area but recieved no response. The next day, they recieved news that she had died.

“The house was gone,” Nathan Blankenship said. “There was no way she could’ve gotten out.”

Nathan recalled fond memories of his grandparents at the house, where he often stayed as his father worked long shifts. Joyce would get him ready for school many mornings, he said.

“She has been my biggest proponent, sticking up for me,” he said. “She was my biggest advocate.”

The pair last spoke on February 19 when Nathan called to check in on her.

“I got to hear I love you one last time," he said.

Thomas earlier Wednesday said fire had destroyed at least 20 structures in Stinnett.

6:31 p.m. ET, February 28, 2024

At least 100 homes impacted in 1 county, neighboring county official says

By CNN's Joe Sutton

Drone footage taken by Allen Garland shows damaged structures in Stinnett, Texas.
Drone footage taken by Allen Garland shows damaged structures in Stinnett, Texas. Courtesy Allen Garland

At least 100 homes have been impacted by the wildfires in neighboring Hutchinson County, according to Moore County Emergency Management Coordinator Tommy Brooks. 

At least 20 structures in the city of Stinnett, structures outside the Borger city limits and “quite a few structures” in the city of Fritch have been destroyed, according to Hutchinson County Public Engagement Coordinator Deidra Thomas. Fritch is in Hutchinson and Moore counties.

Thomas said some fires are still active but most evacuation notices have been lifted.

Fritch residents are still dealing with power and gas outages. “Most infrastructure for power should likely be back tomorrow,” Thomas added.

Search and rescue operations are underway, Thomas said. Moore County is assisting with officials, including 11 from law enforcement, and one fire engine in Hutchinson County, Brooks said.

Moore and Hutchinson counties are north of Amarillo. About 20,000 people live in Hutchinson County, where the Smokehouse Creek Fire began Monday.

“The damage is bad. You would be shocked if you were to travel between here and Borger," Hutchinson County emergency management coordinator Jerry Langwell told evacuees sheltering at the Celebration Family Church in Fritch on Tuesday night. 

6:39 p.m. ET, February 28, 2024

Emergency responder: "We're going to protect the (homes) that we can protect"

From CNN's David Williams

Radio traffic between first responders in Hemphill County, Texas, shows the determined effort to protect residents and homes Tuesday from the fast-spreading Smokehouse Creek Fire threatening the area around the town of Canadian.

“If y’all can make it through there, I could use you in town," a man says Tuesday on one call, according to the Hemphill Volunteer Fire channel on Broadcastify. "We’ve got (inaudible) houses burning."

“We’re just going to protect the ones that we can protect.”

In some cases, firefighters could be heard requesting units to respond to a resident’s house by name.

“I need a truck’s assistance here at (resident’s name) house … The house is OK, but the deck’s on fire. We’re trying to get the deck knocked out,” the firefighter says.

Firefighters responded to reports of multiple trapped people, including an elderly couple who told authorities that they had fire in their yard, but that neither of them were able to drive.

Some homes burned in the Canadian area, officials have said, adding they still were assessing the damage Wednesday. Evacuations and road closures in Canadian were lifted as of early Wednesday afternoon, according to InciWeb, a clearinghouse for US fire information.