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Rapidly Expanding Wildfires In The Texas Panhandle Prompt Evacuations

“Texans are urged to limit activities that could create sparks and take precautions to keep their loved ones safe,” Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said.

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Rapidly Expanding Wildfires In The Texas Panhandle Prompt Evacuations
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A rapidly widening Texas wildfire more than doubled in size Tuesday and prompted evacuation orders in small towns as strong winds, dry grass and unseasonably warm temperatures fueled the blaze in the state's rural Panhandle.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties as the largest fire burned nearly 400 square miles (1,040 square kilometers), according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. That is more than twice its size since the fire sparked Monday. Authorities have not said what might have caused the blaze, which tore through sparsely populated counties surrounded by rolling plains. 

“Texans are urged to limit activities that could create sparks and take precautions to keep their loved ones safe,” Abbott said.

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The largest blaze, known as the Smokehouse Creek Fire, closed highways and remained 0% contained as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the Forest Service. 

Multiple fires were reported across Hemphill and Hutchinson counties, near the Oklahoma border. Texas state Sen. Kevin Sparks said an evacuation order was issued for the town of Canadian, a town of about 2,000 about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northeast of Amarillo, and other areas. Later Tuesday, the Hemphill County Sheriff's Office urged anyone who remained in Canadian to shelter in place or at the high school gym because roads were closed. 

Evacuations were also ordered in nearby Miami, and schools in Canadian and Miami announced closures Wednesday. East of Canadian, fire officials across the border in the area of Durham, Oklahoma, also encouraged people to evacuate because of the fire.

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Evacuations were also taking place in Skellytown, Wheeler, Allison and Briscoe, according to the National Weather Service in Amarillo.

About 40 miles (64 kilometers) southwest of Canadian, city officials in Pampa on Facebook suggested that residents evacuate to the south and said buses were available for that purpose. The Smokehouse Creek Fire was burning to the north. 

To the west, at least some residents in the small city of Fritch were told to leave their homes Tuesday afternoon because of another fire that had jumped a highway.

“Everything south of Highway 146 in Fritch evacuate now!” city officials said on Facebook.

By Tuesday evening, the fires were 20 to 25 miles (32 to 40 kilometers) from Amarillo, and wind was blowing wildfire smoke into the city, which could affect people with respiratory issues, weather service officials said.

The National Weather Service issued red flag warnings and fire danger alerts for several other states through the midsection of the country, as high winds of over 40 mph (64 kph) combined with warm temperatures, low humidity and dry winter vegetation to make conditions ripe for wildfires.

In central Nebraska, a mower sparked a prairie fire that has burned a huge swath of grassland roughly the size of the state's largest city of Omaha, state officials said Tuesday. 

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