US wildfires prompt evacuations in Texas and Oklahoma

Nuclear weapons factory shuts down amid uncontrolled blaze fuelled by strong winds and dry conditions

Wildfires were spreading rapidly in Texas and Oklahoma on Tuesday evening, prompting evacuations in the US states and the closure of a plant that disassembles nuclear weapons.

In Texas, governor Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration Tuesday for 60 counties, activating state resources to help the local firefighters battling the wildfires.

The largest blaze in the Texas Panhandle, the Smokehouse Creek fire, has burned at least 101,171 hectares (250,000 acres) since igniting Monday, fuelled by strong winds and dry conditions, said the Texas A&M Forest Service. The fire remained uncontrolled Tuesday evening.

A hospital system in Canadian, Texas, about 160km (100 miles) northeast of Amarillo, evacuated all of its patients and staff Tuesday afternoon, said Hemphill County hospital district. In Fritch, Texas, the Moore County sheriff’s office told residents of several neighbourhoods to evacuate.


In Oklahoma, some residents of Ellis and Roger Mills counties, near the state’s western border with Texas, were told to leave, said Levi Blackketter, the director of Roger Mills County Emergency Management, in a statement.

“Hot and dry conditions caused by high temperatures and windy conditions are expected to continue in the region in the coming days,” Mr Abbott said in a statement. “These conditions could increase the potential for these wildfires to grow larger and more dangerous.”

Near Amarillo, Texas, a wildfire was burning north of Pantex, a plant that disassembles nuclear weapons, officials said. The plant paused operations and ordered non-essential personnel to evacuate.

There was no fire on the plant’s site or near its boundaries, but nuclear safety officials were responding, said Laef Pendergraft, a nuclear safety engineer for the National Nuclear Security Administration production office at Pantex. The plant has an on-site fire department, he said, speaking at a news conference. – This article originally appeared in The New York Times.