A massive wildfire that has exploded to more than 1 million acres of land in just four days in the Texas Panhandle has now become the largest wildfire in state history as firefighters continue their desperate attempts to contain the blaze.

Crews working to extinguish the Smokehouse Creek fire, as well as four others across the region, were hoping to get a brief – and rather bizarre – wintry assist from the weather on Thursday as a blanket of snow fell across the area.

A weak area of low pressure swinging through the Texas wildfire zones is expected to drop about an inch of snow Thursday amid freezing temperatures.

It’s a welcome relief from the hot, dry and windy conditions that led to the explosive development of several wildfires burning through dry vegetation. 

“Rain is helpful, but when it comes to fire, snow is perfect,” said FOX Weather Meteorologist Britta Merwin. “Think about taking a fire extinguisher to snuff out a fire — this is the same effect. It dampens (the area) and that can really tap out a fire.”

Unfortunately, this storm will have little to no effect on the expansive fires except to keep humidity elevated for a day.

One person was found dead in Hutchinson County north of Amarillo, and dozens of structures were damaged after flames erupted Monday. The cause of the death has not been released.

A firefighter battling the Smokehouse Creek Fire near Amarillo, Texas on Feb. 28, 2024. Photo by -/Flower Mound Fire Department/AFP via Getty Images
An aerial view of damage from the Smokehouse Creek Fire in Roberts County on Feb. 28, 2024. REUTERS/Nathan Frandino/File Photo

Five major wildfires in the Texas Panhandle have consumed over 1.25 million acres, prompting evacuations, road closures and emergency declarations.

The largest fire burning remains the Smokehouse Creek Fire north of Stinnett, with only 3% containment. 

On Wednesday, the fire exploded in size, growing from 300,000 acres to 850,000 as it raced east, making it the second-largest wildfire in Texas history.

The fire then grew in size by another 225,000 acres on Thursday, making it the largest fire in the state’s history.

Firefighters responding to a home destroyed by the wildfire in Stinnet, Texas on Feb. 29, 2024. AP Photo/Julio Cortez

“The fire is 185 miles wide,” FOX Weather meteorologist Stephen Morgen said. “That’s nearly twice the size of Delaware.”

Fire officials lifted the evacuation order for the town of Canadian on Wednesday, but warn there is still “moderate” potential for fire growth. “Ground crews are moving along the fire with heavy machinery, but the rough terrain is causing slow progress,” according to the Wednesday night update from Texas A&M Forest Service. More firefighting resources are arriving on Thursday.

Windy Deuce Fire devastates town of Fritch, Texas 

Farther west, the Windy Deuce Fire has burned 142,000 acres across Moore, Potter and Carson counties, leading to the evacuation of several communities.  The fire has consumed about half the town of Fritch. 

“Well, our house is still standing,” homeowner Lee Quesada said during a video tour of his scorched neighborhood. “But then, if you look over on the other side of that tree, which is on fire, two structures, neighbors, two houses down across the street on fire.”

A charred refrigerator at a property destroyed by the Smokehouse Creek Fire in Stinnett. AP Photo/Julio Cortez

And to the south and east of the massive Smokehouse Creek Fire, the Grape Vine Creek fire is 60% contained after burning 30,000 acres. 

The fires are not only sending residents scrambling for safety but also sending thick plumes of smoke across the Texas Panhandle and into the Plains.

Wind forecasts show that smoke will push north across the Oklahoma Panhandle through Kansas and Nebraska into Minnesota and western Wisconsin. 

Utility crews work on power lines near a home burned to the ground in Stinnett. AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Fire scorches weather station as thermometer reads 126 degrees

The fire spread into the town of Canadian, Texas, on Tuesday, where flames burned through an automated weather station Tuesday afternoon.

According to the West Texas Mesonet, which operates the station, a temperature as high as 126 degrees was recorded at the site before it was destroyed.

Operations at a nuclear weapons facility outside of Amarillo were halted after flames got dangerously close to the property.

A member of the Texas A&M Forest Service surveying a home destroyed in the fire in Stinnett. AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Late Tuesday, Pantex said all the facility’s employees were accounted for, and firefighters were in structure protection mode, but the property remains secure.

Dangerous fire weather conditions return to Texas on Friday

Just as quickly as the weather shifted to help the firefight, it will shift back to potentially hamper it. 

Temperatures on Friday will warm back into the 70s with breezy winds gusting to 45-50 mph or higher. In addition, relative humidity levels will plunge below 20% and could reach as low as 10%.

NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center said an elevated fire weather risk is already in place for Friday, and critical fire weather conditions are expected on both Saturday and Sunday. 

The combination of the warm, windy air and the dry ground will again bring a heightened risk for any fire that sparks to spread quickly and any ongoing blaze to potentially breach containment lines.

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