Texas Wildfires Over 1 Million Acres

Donations Needed as Farmers, Ranchers Recover From Wildfires, Worry About Weather Outlook

A cow's burn injuries, a pile of blackened hay and destroyed machinery show some of the devastation caused by the Smokehouse Creek Fire northwest of Canadian, Texas just outside the city limits. (Photos by Quentin Shieldknight)

Editor's Note: This story first appeared Feb. 29 and was last updated late evening of March 1, including the latest fire acreage numbers and additional resources available for those affected by the fire or for those who wish to offer donations to help out.


OMAHA (DTN) -- Early Wednesday, Quentin Shieldknight, who farms in the Texas Panhandle near Spearman, Texas, loaded up hay to take much-needed cattle feed to friends of his in Canadian, Texas who suffered fire damage at their place.

Traveling to his friend's place, Shieldknight got a first-hand look at what the fire left behind. "Areas look like a nuke went off."

That Panhandle was badly hit by what has already become now the largest fire in Texas history as it raced through the state. On Thursday morning, the Smokehouse Creek Fire merged with another fire and was in both Texas and Oklahoma. By Friday night, the Smokehouse Creek Fire was 1,078,086 acres -- almost 1,700 square miles -- and 15% contained, according to Texas A&M Forest Service. (https://tfswildfires.com/…)

Prior to this fire, AP noted that "The largest fire recorded in state history was the 2006 East Amarillo Complex fire, which burned about 1,400 square miles (3,630 square kilometers) and resulted in 13 deaths."

Currently two deaths have been blamed on this week's wildfires, although there still needs to be a more extensive search for victims. The first victim was 83-year-old grandmother Joyce Blankenship of Stinnett, located northeast of Amarillo, Texas. She died in her home.

The second confirmed death was 44-year-old truck driver Cindy Owen of Pampa, Texas. AP reported Owen "was driving in Texas' Hemphill County south of Canadian on Tuesday afternoon when she encountered fire or smoke, said Sgt. Chris Ray of the state's Department of Public Safety. She got out of her truck, and flames overtook her. A passerby found Owen and called first responders, who took her to a burn unit in Oklahoma. She died Thursday morning, Ray said."

As of late Friday evening, there were 10 fires burning in Texas for a total of 1,258,762 acres, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

The fear is more fires could start or burnt fields reignite on the weekend. The National Weather Service in Amarillo, Texas said on Friday, "Critical fire weather conditions are expected to return midday Saturday and once again after sunrise Sunday. Please refrain entirely from outdoor activities that generate sparks or flames."


On Friday, Texan Gov. Greg Abbott held a press conference and said already as many as 500 structures were destroyed in the Panhandle and the number could rise.

"When you look at the damages that have occurred here, it's just gone, completely gone, nothing left but ashes on the ground," Abbott said, according to Associated Press.

Homes weren't the only ones damaged or lost to the flames. Livestock owners are dealing with lost and injured cattle, as well as the loss of feed as valuable grass and hay supplies were burned.

AP added that Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller estimated the cattle deaths would be in the thousands, with the number will rise. "There'll be cattle that we'll have to euthanize," Miller said. "They'll have burned hooves, burned udders." Miller "predicted the overall impact on the Texas cattle industry and on consumer prices for beef would be minimal," reported AP.


In Roberts County, people hit by the fires worked this week to recover from the devastating impact by strongly supporting each other.

"It has hit us hard," Nancy Gill, from Miami, Texas, told DTN Wednesday afternoon. "Right now, we are just trying to assess the damage, continue to fight fires and help the community." The small close-knit ranching community of Miami and other nearby towns suffered significant loss. Livestock, buildings, equipment, homes, and pastureland have been affected.

"Everyone is extremely exhausted and trying to wrap their minds around everything," said Gill, whose family ranches in the fire area northeast of Amarillo.

While Gill's family didn't lose any buildings, they have several neighbors who have lost homes, barns, equipment, vehicles, hay, feed, tack and more.

"I don't think people understand the damage and there are still multiple live fires," she said. "Producers are assessing the damage and trying to navigate where to move cattle. The amount of support we have received statewide has been unbelievable."


Shieldknight could see how close that fire came to threatening his own farm this week, where he grows corn, cotton, wheat, soybeans and runs red angus cattle. He lives only 20 miles north of the fires.

"There's enough farm ground in places to protect us, but on the western side of our operation where my house is there's a whole bunch of rangeland," he told DTN. He's experienced wildfires in the Panhandle before, but this was different. "You try to prepare yourself for the worst, but it never works," he explained. "This fire, at least on the Texas size, I believe is bigger. We lost way more homes in these fires than last time."


From what he saw Wednesday morning of the fire damage, Shieldknight already knew Panhandle livestock producers will need more than the hay he delivered to his friend. "Cattlemen will need medicine and ointments for burns on cows, too, not just hay," Shieldknight added. "Everyone (is) still fighting this fire and getting cows moved before wind gets going again tomorrow (Thursday)."

He said that ranchers will need to reevaluate the condition of the cattle and horses burned in the fires in the next two weeks. There will also be a need to find feed and evaluate grassland recovery.

"Cattle will possibly need to be pulled out for up to 90 days, then hope we green up quick in the spring," explained Shieldknight. "There are other farmers and the ranchers who are taking some of the cattle now because they can feed them in fields with corn stocks and/or they have extra hay. But that won't last until the spring green up starts in the state."

Already there are reports on social media of people shipping hay bales from other parts of the country to help out livestock producers affected by the fires. (See further in this story how to donate hay to the region).


Satellite imagery shows the loss of houses and buildings burned in Borger, Canadian, Fritch and Miami. Various media have shown aerial and ground images of burnt homes and farms, as people in some areas have been allowed to return and sort through the ashes.

The largest and most dangerous is the Smokehouse Creek Fire which on Friday evening still far from being under control in Texas and Oklahoma. The fire started Monday in Hutchinson County in Texas. It reached 40,000 acres by Tuesday morning. By Tuesday night, it was 250,000 acres. By Wednesday morning, it was 400,000 acres. By later Wednesday, the Smokehouse Creek Fire was 850,000 acres. By Thursday, it was over the 1 million acres mark. According to Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food & Forestry, the Oklahoma Smokehouse fire (Ellia/Roger Mills Counties) was 31,590 acres with 40% containment there. (https://ag.ok.gov/…)


While it still needs to be determined how the fires started in the Texas Panhandle, Shieldknight pointed to the volatile weather conditions the area faced. "It's pretty simple as to what happened. We had a drought two years ago and forced the cows out. Last year we had an abundance of rain and grass but few cows. That allowed a lot of pastures to grow and all it took was one spark of any kind to start it in 80-degree weather and 60-mph winds to spread it," said Shieldknight.

(See more on how communities were dealing with the outbreak of fires Tuesday at https://www.dtnpf.com/….)


Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service on Thursday said donations of hay, feed, fencing supplies, cow feed and milk replacer are needed to support livestock owners affected by the wildfires.

The extension service said it is "establishing Animal Supply Points in several locations in the region to accept the donations. The purpose of the Animal Supply Point is to meet area producers' most critical needs such as providing feed for cattle while they assess their individual operation's other needs."

"These donations will go directly to those who need them as soon as possible," said Monty Dozier, AgriLife Extension Disaster Assessment Recovery, DAR, program director, Bryan-College Station. "Texans are known for their generosity and deep values of Texas agriculture during times of need. This is certainly a situation where our neighbors and friends are needing assistance after these fires have threatened their livelihoods."

See more on how to donate hay, feed or fencing materials, or have equipment to help haul hay, go to: https://agrilifetoday.tamu.edu/….


Just prior to the start of the fires, Texas Farm Bureau had warned how short hay supplies already were in Texas. On Feb. 22, Farm Bureau's Field Editor Shelby Shank wrote a blog noted that said AgriLife Extension Economist Dr. David Anderson had noted Dec. 1, 2023 hay stocks were the lowest on record behind 2022 and 2021.

"Hay yields averaged 1.87 tons per acre in Texas last year compared to 1.56 tons per acre in 2022. Producers had yielded 1.95 tons per acre on average since 2012. Some ranchers are shipping in hay and alfalfa from out of state due to low availability locally. Prices aren't as high as they were in 2022, but they remain above average, indicating tighter supplies and higher input costs," wrote Shank. "The national price for round bales is $102, but grass hay bales in Texas have been selling for $100-$140 or $200-$280 per ton based on quality." The blog added Anderson saying, "There are fewer cows to feed, but the costs to keep herds fed through winter after poor hay and grazing production has translated into tough decisions for some producers." (https://texasfarmbureau.org/…)


On Thursday while in Texas, President Joe Biden talked about what the federal government is doing to help.

"From the start, I've directed my team to do everything possible to help the people in the communities threatened by the fires. In response to specific requests made by the states, we already have 500 federal personnel here working on fire suppression, and that includes the deployment of 100 federal firefighters and more on the way," said Biden. He added there also have been fire engines, air tankers, small planes, and helicopters sent to help.

He added that FEMA has already said Texas and Oklahoma will be reimbursed "for the cost of keeping folks safe." Biden expressed gratefulness to the "brave first responders risking their lives to save others and we urge folks to listen to the warnings from local officials."

Biden stressed, "When disaster strikes, there is no red state or blue state ... there's just communities looking for help."


"As Texas Agriculture Commissioner, I am deeply concerned about the devastating wildfires raging through the Texas Panhandle. These fires not only threaten lives and property but also have a significant impact on our agriculture industry. We stand in solidarity with our farmers and ranchers facing loss and destruction. Our thoughts are with them during this challenging time, and we're committed to supporting their recovery efforts every step of the way," said a statement released by Texas Commissioner Miller on Wednesday.

A day earlier, Texas Gov. Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties in his state as widespread wildfires destroyed homes and structures and led to a mix of mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders for several towns.

Firefighters, farmers, ranchers, and community members continued to help each other, hoping to extinguish all the fires soon. The Texas A&M Forest Service posted pictures to social media of dozers and motor graders working to develop containment lines around some of the wildfires, such as in Oldham County.

By late Wednesday, the Forest Service raised its Wildland Fire Preparedness Level to Level 3 "due to an increase in large, active wildfires and increased resource commitment. The fire environment is expected to support wildlife activity over the next few weeks."


Looking closer at the forecast for the Central and Southern Plains, DTN Meteorologist Teresa Wells said Friday morning in her forecast that increasing temperatures were expanding "across the south on Friday, with the region pushing high temperature records in some places again this weekend ... Another system will move into the area Sunday and Monday which could produce strong winds; however, precipitation may be limited."

DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick warned that the strong winds that have caused expanded wildfires in the region earlier in the week could be replicated over the weekend.


As fires continued to spread through the High Plains this week, the Smokehouse Creek fire isn't the only one still fighting to contain the fires.

In Texas, some of the other fires included Windy Deuce fire in Moore County which had on Friday evening was at 142,000 acres and now 60% contained; the Grape Vine Creek fire in Gray County was 30,000 acres and 60% contained.

The Oklahoma government in its wildfire situation update issued late Wednesday afternoon said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved the state's request for a Fire Management Assistance Grants (FMAG) for the Catesby Fire in Ellis County.

"The FMAG may help reimburse local governments, volunteer fire departments and other first responders for costs associated with responding to the fires. The authorization makes FEMA funding available to reimburse 75% of state, local and tribal government eligible firefighting costs for the designated fires. Federal fire management assistance is provided through the President's Disaster Relief Fund," it said.

The Oklahoma update has also noted houses and numerous additional structures being lost in various counties to fires.

In its March 1 Fire Situation Report, https://ag.ok.gov/… the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food & Forestry provided its list of fires within and outside of the Oklahoma Forestry Services Protection area and how much they were contained. Besides the Smokehouse Road Fire (Texas/Oklahoma), it noted, as of Friday, the Slapout Fire in Beaver County was at 26,048 acres and 45% containment; the Catesby Fire in Ellis County with 90,570 acres and 29% contained.

Oklahoma noted concern that "fire danger will quickly rebound into the weekend with another fire-effective weather pattern over dry, dormant fuels Saturday though Monday emphasizing another round of significant fire potential on Sunday focused in western/northwestern Oklahoma."

The government outlook on Thursday had added, "Sunday will present the most concerning alignment in the fire environment for significant fire development given any ignition."


While the wildfires already have been stunning in their impact -- the Smokehouse Creek Fire within three days consumed more acres than all the wildfires together burned in Texas in 2023 -- DTT's Baranick said the amazing thing about the weather situation is that it's not at all perfect for producing wildfires.

"Wildfires feed on a bunch of dead vegetation over dry soils with dry atmospheric conditions and strong winds to pump in oxygen and help the fire move," he said. "Only the atmospheric components have been observed this week. But the background conditions we typically look for that would increase fire risks have not."

Baranick said the northern Texas Panhandle has had more precipitation this winter than normal. Amarillo, which is about 50 miles to the southwest of the large Smokehouse Creek fire, received 1.77 inches of rain in December, 1.02 inches of rain in January, and 0.52 inches in February, for a total of 3.31 inches for the season.

"Typically, Amarillo only receives 1.79 inches of rain over the entire winter season, so Amarillo has received twice as much rainfall as normal," Baranick said. "That has knocked down the drought in the region and there is currently none on the U.S. Drought Monitor for this part of the country," he said.

"In fact, with the remaining drought listed on the map for the Central and Southern Plains, all of it is labeled with a large "L" -- meaning it is long-term drought and rainfall deficits, rather than short-term drought that would increase wildfire risks."

He went on. "Now, the seasonal total of 3.31 inches is not all that heavy anyway, so let's take a look at the soil moisture. Coincidentally, because of the heavier rain, soil moisture is above normal for this time of year. But that doesn't mean that soils are not dry. Actual soil moisture in the region is about half of what it is in the Midwest and closer to a third of the water available in the Southeast states, so they are still dry compared to more humid climates," Baranick said.

"But it was the overall weather conditions that caused the most important reason the fires were able to grow so quickly. It has been very warm in the Texas Panhandle for the last week, with high temperatures hitting 80 degrees Fahrenheit or more four times in the last 10 days. That would spur plant growth and a reduction in soil moisture. Add to it that temperatures on Monday, Feb. 26 hit a high of 82 F while the relative humidity fell below 20% and winds gusted in the 45-60 mph range during the middle of the day and that allowed the fire to get started.

"Strong winds continued through Tuesday evening in the same general range before quieting down Monday night. A sharp dryline was the cause for the initial conditions. Winds flowing down off of the southern Rockies and through West Texas and much of the Plains on Monday caused the winds to increase and the humidity to fall through Tuesday afternoon. A strong cold front moved through on Tuesday evening which eventually got the winds to calm down. West Texas is usually a windy place when these dryline events happen, and are a frequent cause of concern for wildfires," he said.

"But the extent of the ones currently going on, and the Smokehouse Creek fire in particular, are alarming. Smaller fires would make more sense, given the more unfavorable background conditions. But that just goes to show that when weather conditions for creating/sustaining/growing wildfires occur, they shouldn't be ignored."



Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has set up a website at https://agrilifetoday.tamu.edu/… to help provide information on donating hay, feed or fencing materials or even on how to make monetary contributions. "AgriLife Extension will provide more educational information as it becomes available on the losses and needs of those affected by the wildfires," the site said.

See more tips on how to protect yourself in case of wildfires, as well as homes, barns, agriculture production facilities, crops and livestock by going to https://texashelp.tamu.edu/….


Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association is urging donors to give to the TSCRA Disaster Relief Fund amid widespread wildfires affecting the Texas Panhandle and Western Oklahoma. Donations will go on to aid victims of the ongoing natural disasters, the organization said. The TSCRA Disaster Relief Fund is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides support for cattle raisers in Texas and Oklahoma who are victims of a natural disaster. All contributions to the TSCRA Disaster Relief Fund are tax deductible. See https://tscra.org/….


The State of Texas Agriculture Relief (STAR) Fund is accepting donations to help farmers and ranchers recover from fire losses in the Panhandle. According to the website, the fund "was created solely with monetary donations from private individuals and entities to fund disaster recovery efforts. STAR Fund money may be used to assist farmers, ranchers and agribusiness owners in rebuilding fences, restoring operations and paying for other agricultural disaster relief. If you'd like to help folks impacted by the wildfires, floods or tornadoes, consider making a donation to the STAR Fund. The Program is designed to provide relief to Texas agricultural entities adversely impacted by natural disasters." For those wishing to receive funds, "Funds are not intended to compensate individuals or businesses for losses incurred, but to assist agriculture producers in cost-sharing some of the unexpected expenses associated with the repair or replacement of items necessary for their agricultural operation. See the application for more information. Verification of the damage caused by the disaster is required prior to TDA disbursing funds. Please include any pictures, certifications or other documentation of the damage." See more on eligibility to receive funds at https://www.texasagriculture.gov/….


"Catastrophic wildfires have scorched over 1 million acres in the Texas Panhandle. Homes, barns, fences and livestock have been lost. In an effort to help farmers and ranchers who have been affected by this event, Texas Farm Bureau developed the Texas Panhandle Wildfire Relief Fund. This program will collect and distribute monetary contributions only," noted the Farm Bureau site. See https://texasfarmbureau.org/… or contact Chris Daughtery at cdaughtery@txfb.org or 254-399-5074 with donation questions.


USDA's Farm Service Agency is offering disaster assistance and low-interest loan programs to assist agricultural producers in their recovery efforts. See https://www.fsa.usda.gov/….


The Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) works with local, state, federal, non-governmental, and sector partners to help plan for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters that affect livestock and companion and service animals. On its site are resources to help with listening of animal supply points, the Texas Department of Agriculture hay hotline to help locate or donate hay and forage, phone numbers to contact for lost and found animals, carcass disposal assistance, and various government programs available to help. See https://www.tahc.texas.gov/….


The Canadian AH&N Ranch Supply in Canadian, Texas is a fire relief supply point. Donations can be mailed to Fire Relief Fund, P.O. Box 300, Canadian, TX 79014, given in person at Canadian AH&N, or by telephone (806)282-9534. For more information, people are encouraged to phone. People who wished to donate hay were encouraged to call the number first, find out where are people who need the hay, and then it could be delivered more efficiently to cattle owners.


USDA Informational Meetings for Ranchers and Livestock Producers Affected by Wildfires:

For Whom: Ranchers, livestock producers, and landowners that have experienced loss of forage, agricultural improvements infrastructure, and livestock due to the recent wildfires.

Purpose: NRCS and FSA employees will present options for recovery including, information on the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), and the Emergency Assistance Livestock Program (ELAP), as well as other disaster recovery options available to farmers and ranchers. Additionally, how to properly document wildfire losses will be covered.

Times and Locations:


Tuesday, March 5th at 1:30 pm

Hemphill County Exhibition Center -- Sage Room

10865 Exhibition Lane Rd

Canadian, Tx 79014


Wednesday, March 6th at 1:30 pm

Amarillo National Bank of Borger -- Rig Room on 3rd floor

301 W 6th St

Borger, TX 79007

For more information, contact your local USDA Service Center:

Carson: (806) 537-3504

Gray: (806) 665-1751

Hansford: (806) 659-2330

Hutchinson: (806) 878-2241

Hemphill: (806) 323-6752

Roberts: (806) 868-3531

Wheeler: (806) 826-3565

DTN Senior Livestock Editor Jennifer Carrico contributed to this story.

Elaine Shein can be reached at elaine.shein@dtn.com

Follow her on X, formerly known as Twitter, @elaineshein

Mary Kennedy can be reached at mary.kennedy@dtn.com

Follow her on X, formerly known as Twitter, @MaryCKenn

Jennifer Carrico can be reached at jennifer.carrico@dtn.com

Follow her on X, formerly known as Twitter, @JennCattleGal