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Texas Fire Chief Dies Responding to Early Morning Structure Fire After 9 Days Fighting Historic Wildfires

Credits: The National Desk

The volunteer fire chief of Fritch, Texas, Zeb Smith, tragically passed away on Tuesday after responding to a structure fire unrelated to the wildfires that have devastated the region.

Hutchinson County officials announced his death, attributing it to his “tireless efforts over the past week” in responding to the historic wildfires that have ravaged the state.

Smith, a dedicated public servant, was the first on the scene of the structure fire, demonstrating his unwavering commitment to the Fritch community. Despite emergency medical assistance and quick transportation to Golden Plains Community Hospital, he tragically succumbed to his injuries.

Deadly Texas wildfire (Credits: CBS 58)

Hutchinson County, home to Fritch, has been severely affected by the Smokehouse Creek Fire, which has grown to nearly 1.1 million acres in just a few days. Smith’s death occurred after he responded to a reported structure fire at a residence, where he entered to identify if anyone needed rescue.

Unfortunately, he did not exit the residence, and other responders found him at 7:30 a.m., initiating medical treatment and rushing him to the hospital, where he later passed away.

An autopsy has been ordered to determine the cause of Smith’s death. It was clarified that the structure fire was not directly related to the ongoing wildfires, but the demanding nature of the firefighting efforts likely played a role in the incident.

Smith had been actively fighting the wildfires for nearly ten days, alongside other volunteer firefighters in the county. Alan Wells, fire chief of Stinnett, noted that Smith had not slept much during this time.

The Texas Panhandle wildfires have burned nearly 1.25 million acres in just over a week, a staggering amount compared to the total land burned by fires across the entire state from 2017 to 2021.

Fritch Mayor Tom Ray described Smith as a cherished member of the community. Smith joined the fire department in 2017 and rose to the rank of chief in 2020. Smith leaves two sons, the youngest of whom is just 9 years old.

Plans for a memorial service for Chief Smith will be announced later, as the community mourns the loss of a dedicated firefighter and leader.

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