Firefighters face difficult weather conditions amid Texas wildfire battle

Firefighters battling the largest wildfire in the history of Texas are facing increasingly difficult weather conditions.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire that began on Monday has killed at least two people, left a charred landscape of scorched prairie and dead cattle and destroyed as many as 500 structures, including burned-out homes, in the Texas Panhandle.

The US National Weather Service in Amarillo has issued a red flag warning for the entire Panhandle from late on Saturday morning through until midnight on Sunday after rain and snow on Thursday allowed firefighters to contain a portion of the fire.

“A combination of strong winds, low relative humidity and warm temperatures will create favourable weather for rapid fire growth and spread”, according to the weather service’s forecast.

“Critical fire weather conditions are expected to return … as winds out of the south-west gust to 40 to 45mph and humidity drops below 10%,” the forecast said, as it predicted a high temperature of 24C.

The fire, which has merged with another fire and crossed the state line into western Oklahoma, has burned more than 1,700 square miles and was 15% contained, the Texas A&M Forest Service said on Friday.

Charred trees
Dwarf palmetto trees are charred after the Smokehouse Creek Fire destroyed a property (AP)

“Everybody needs to understand that we face enormous potential fire dangers as we head into this weekend,” Republican governor Greg Abbott said on Friday after touring the area.

“No-one can let down their guard. Everyone must remain very vigilant.”

Two women were confirmed killed by the fires this week.

But with the flames still menacing a wide area, authorities have not yet thoroughly searched for victims or tallied homes and other structures that were damaged or destroyed.

Two firefighters were injured battling the flames in Oklahoma. One suffered a heat-related injury and the other was injured when the vehicle he was riding in struck a tanker truck as the two were heading to fight the fire near Gage.

Both firefighters are expected to recover.

Texas agriculture commissioner Sid Miller said individual ranchers could suffer devastating losses due to the fires, but predicted the overall impact on the Texas cattle industry and consumer beef prices would be minimal.

The number of dead cattle was not known, but Mr Miller and local ranchers estimate the total will be in the thousands.

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