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An explosive Texas fire more than doubles in size as it threatens towns and forces evacuations


By Mary Gilbert and Joe Sutton, CNN

(CNN) — A massive blaze that’s raging out of control is threatening Texas Panhandle towns and forcing residents to evacuate.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire, the largest wildfire burning in the region, has exploded to 200,000 acres since igniting Monday afternoon, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

The blaze, driven by gusty winds and fueled by dry, unseasonably warm conditions, is moving incredibly rapidly and remains 0% contained.

Evacuations were ordered early Tuesday afternoon for parts of Hemphill and Roberts counties as the fire encroached on populated areas. This includes the town of Canadian, Texas, around an hour and half northeast of Amarillo, Texas.

Parts of Fritch, Texas, which straddles Moore and Hutchinson counties to the north of Amarillo, are also under an evacuation order for a separate fire, city officials and the Texas A&M Forest Service said.

Around 100 people could be affected by the evacuation order, Moore County Emergency Management Coordinator Tommy brooks told CNN.

A robust cold front is forecast to slice through the area Tuesday evening and will cause the wind direction to shift, which could force fires to spread in new directions.

More than 11 million people in the south-central US are under red flag warnings Tuesday as springlike warmth, gusty winds and dry air create dangerous fire weather.

Texas and Oklahoma are in the epicenter of some of the most dangerous conditions.

Multiple large wildfires ignited in the Texas Panhandle Monday under similar dry, warm and windy conditions.

At least 77,135 acres were scorched by 13 wildfires in Texas Monday, according to the forest service. The majority of the damage was done by four fires in the state’s Panhandle: the Smokehouse Creek Fire, the Grape Vine Creek Fire, the Windy Deuce Fire and the Juliet Pass Fire.

All four fires were still burning Tuesday, but three remained difficult to contain as erratic fire behavior – driven by gusty winds of 40 to 60 mph – challenged firefighters.

As of Tuesday afternoon, these fires are:

  • Smokehouse Creek Fire: 100,000 acres burned (0% contained)
  • Grape Vine Creek Fire: 30,000 acres burned (20% contained)
  • Windy Deuce Fire: 8,000 acres burned (20% contained)

The Juliet Pass Fire was 90% contained on Tuesday afternoon after burning nearly 3,000 acres.

Fire weather conditions are expected to ease during the day Wednesday in the wake of the cold front. Winds across the Texas Panhandle may remain breezy for a time early Wednesday, but are expected to gradually calm through Wednesday evening.

Temperatures will also tumble in Texas, replacing Tuesday highs in the 80s and 90s with highs in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

However, with little to no wet weather in the forecast through the weekend, firefighters will not have a helping hand from Mother Nature.

CNN’s Andy Rose contributed to this report.

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Article Topic Follows: cnn-weather/environment

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