Texas Responds to Deadly Wildfires in the Panhandle

Gov. Rick Perry said Texas is leading a coordinated effort to battle deadly blazes that have swept through the Texas Panhandle, burning about 663,000 acres and leaving at least 11 people dead. The Tradewind Aircraft Service Center in Amarillo has become the command post for coordinating the state and local fire fighters working around-the-clock to protect lives and property, the governor’s office said.

“The state of Texas is aggressively fighting these fires,” Perry said. “We’ve got 25 aircraft available to fight these fires from the air, and four dozen bulldozer crews and 11 engine crews working to contain the fires on the ground. We owe a debt of gratitude to the hundreds of brave men and women fighting these blazes.”

Perry also thanked firefighting crews from Oklahoma and New Mexico, who together have committed seven heavy air tankers to our coordinated effort.

On March 13 the governor said that in the previous 24 hours the state had responded to 162 fires in Carson, Childress, Gray, Hartley, Hutchinson, Moore and Wheeler counties. The fires forced the evacuation of 1,911 Texans; many have been able to return to their homes. Aircraft have flown 17 missions and dropped 5,525 gallons of retardant. There are currently 11 major fires still burning about 530,000 acres in the Panhandle.

The fires claimed the lives of three persons in Hutchinson County and four in Gray County; the Gray County fatalities were the result of a fire-related accident on I-40 east of the city of Groom. The Austin American Statesman reported March 14 that an additional four people were found dead a ravine. One volunteer fire fighter from the city of Howardwick in Donley County was critically injured while fighting a fire in Gray County.

“We share in the grief of those who have lost family members and loved ones, and we offer our prayers,” Perry said. “Throughout this wildfire season, communities in our state have shown strength and resolve that are uniquely Texan.”

The Governor’s Division of Emergency Management is coordinating resources for the statewide response, while the Texas Forest Service is leading firefighting operations in the Panhandle. The Texas Department of Public Safety provides traffic control and aerial surveillance assistance. The Texas Army National Guard is providing support and remains on standby to open the Armory in Pampa for sheltering if needed. Texas Department of Transportation and the Public Utilities Commission are providing equipment as needed.

Since Dec. 26, more than 10,000 separate wildfires in Texas have burned nearly 3.5 million acres.