Wildfires in Texas Panhandle Force Shutdown of Nuclear Weapons Facility

Credits: Scientific American

A series of wildfires raged through the Texas Panhandle early Wednesday, causing evacuations, power outages, and the shutdown of a nuclear weapons facility.

Strong winds, dry grass, and unseasonably warm temperatures fueled the blazes, which damaged or destroyed an unknown number of homes and structures in Hutchinson County.

The main facility assembling and disassembling America’s nuclear arsenal, Pantex, shut down operations Tuesday night and evacuated non-essential personnel as a precautionary measure.

Pantex, located about 17 miles northeast of Amarillo, has been the main assembly and disassembly site for US atomic bombs since 1975.

Governor Greg Abbott declared a disaster for 60 counties as the largest fire, the Smokehouse Creek Fire, spread to nearly 400 square miles. The Texas A&M Forest Service reported that the fire’s size doubled since it started on Monday. The cause of the blaze is unknown, and authorities have urged Texans to limit activities that could create sparks.

Wildfires Sweeping Across Texas (Credits: Toronto Star)

The weather forecast offers hope for firefighters, with cooler temperatures, less wind, and the possibility of rain on Thursday. However, the situation remains dire in some areas. In Borger, officials planned a convoy to evacuate residents to another shelter ahead of expected power outages and freezing temperatures.

Evacuation orders were issued for several towns, including Canadian, Miami, Skellytown, Wheeler, Allison, and Briscoe. Schools in Canada and Miami closed on Wednesday, and residents were urged to shelter in place or at the high school gym in Canada due to closed roads.

Evacuations were also happening in Fritch, where residents were told to leave their homes as a fire jumped a highway. Amarillo, located 20 to 25 miles away, experienced wildfire smoke blowing into the city, affecting people with respiratory issues.

Red flag warnings and fire danger alerts were issued for several other states, including Nebraska, where a prairie fire sparked by a mower burned a large swath of grassland. The fire in Nebraska was roughly the size of Omaha, the state’s largest city.

I'm Richard Rosales, I cover political news and ongoing US elections.