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Wildfires burn across Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma

By Justin Walker

Parts of the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma were devastated by wildfires over the past few days.

According to the Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS), there have been 40 fires covering nearly 60,000 acres in the past week in the Lone Star State.

Scott Breit, fire weather analyst with TFS, said wildfire potential is due to “a combination of higher winds and very low humidity levels combined with dry fuels.”

Breit said those fuels are a result of heavy rains from the spring and summer of 2017 that are now parched from a severely dry winter in the Texas Panhandle.

That has helped several fires spread rapidly during the past week, including the Carbon Fire in Wheeler County, which burned about 12,530 acres and was 95 percent contained as of Monday morning. The Milliron Fire in Collingsworth County burned nearly 30,000 acres as of Monday, with 90 percent containment reported.

The 206 Fire crossed the Texas-New Mexico border, burning an estimated total of 49,785 acres with about 5,590 acres being in Texas. That fire was 95 percent contained as of Monday morning.

In Oklahoma, three major fires have spread across the state. The largest, the Rhea Fire, has burned an estimated 245,433 acres.

Oklahoma has a state of emergency issued for 52 of its 77 counties due to ongoing wildfires and critical fire weather conditions.

Oklahoma officials have reported two deaths as a result of the fires. A 61-year-old-man died from injuries sustained in a fire southeast of Leedey, Oklahoma, while a women died in her vehicle near Seiling, Oklahoma.

Breit said an approaching cold front will bring both relief and potential disaster as it goes through the area.

“There will be a little front that goes through Tuesday night,” Breit said. “That’s going to be dangerous for any ongoing fire because the winds will shift the direction of the fire. Firefighters need to be especially on guard for that wind shift.”

But behind the cold front will be lighter winds Wednesday morning, which will decrease the high rate of spread the area is currently experiencing.

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