'Devastating' Texas wildfires spark disaster declaration, nuclear plant partial evacuation

Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via Getty Images

(AMARILLO, Texas) -- "Devastating" wildfires in Texas have prompted a disaster declaration for dozens of counties and evacuation orders in parts of the Texas Panhandle.

Gov. Greg Abbott declared a disaster declaration for 60 counties on Tuesday due to "widespread wildfire activity throughout the state." The largest of the blazes -- the Smokehouse Creek Fire -- is the second-largest wildfire in Texas history.

The declaration will ensure that fire response resources are quickly deployed to "areas in the Texas Panhandle being impacted by devastating wildfires," Abbott said in a statement Tuesday.

The Pantex Nuclear Weapons Plant in Amarillo has paused operations until further notice and evacuated nonessential personnel as a precaution due to the wildfires, according to an internal situation report from the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency obtained by ABC News.

"All special materials are safe and unaffected," according to the report.

The facility is located approximately 13 miles from the Windy Deuce Fire in Moore County, one of several fires being monitored by the Texas A&M Forest Service.

"Several large wildfires ignited under warm, dry and windy conditions across the Texas Panhandle," the Texas A&M Forest Service said on social media Tuesday. "Today, strong winds will likely impact these wildfires and the potential for new ignitions remains."

Fires continued to impact mainly the central and eastern portions of the Texas Panhandle on Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire in Hutchinson County has grown to an estimated 850,000 acres and is 3% contained as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

There was "extreme fire behavior" associated with the wildfire on Tuesday, with wind gusts up to 60 mph and flames as high as 20 feet, a spokesperson for the agency told ABC News.

The fire has crossed into northwestern Oklahoma, affecting several state and local highways and resulting in the evacuation of a hospital and nursing home in Shattuck, according to the DHS/CISA report.

The Windy Deuce Fire has burned an estimated 90,000 acres and was 25% contained as of Wednesday afternoon, fire officials said.

"Fire behavior continues to be very active under the influence of high winds," the Texas A&M Forest Service said on social media Tuesday.

More than 40 houses were damaged in Fritch, a city located in Hutchinson and Moore counties, since Monday, the city said. Parts of the city have been evacuated.

Mandatory evacuations were issued for several towns and communities in the Amarillo region on Tuesday. Several have since been lifted, including in Canadian and Skellytown.

Several school districts were closed Wednesday due to the wildfires.

Abbott warned that the wildfires could grow in the coming days as high temperatures and windy conditions continue.

"Texans are urged to limit activities that could create sparks and take precautions to keep their loved ones safe," he said Tuesday.

President Joe Biden has been receiving updates on the wildfires and White House officials are in "close contact" with state, local, and federal officials, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Wednesday. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Forest Service and National Interagency Fire Center are providing assistance to the state, she said.

"We urge everyone in the affected area to remain vigilant and heed the warnings of local officials, especially those who have been ordered to evacuate," Jean-Pierre said.

ABC News' Josh Margolin and Amanda Maile contributed to this report.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024 at 4:13PM by Meredith Deliso, ABC News Permalink