Christian groups bring relief as firefighters battle largest wildfire in Texas’ history

State battles 58 fires covering over 1.2 million acres

In this handout photo provided by the Texas A&M Forest Service, smoke billows over a road during the Smokehouse Creek fire on February 27, 2024, in the Texas panhandle. The fire has grown to cover 1,078,086 acres as of March 2, 2024.
In this handout photo provided by the Texas A&M Forest Service, smoke billows over a road during the Smokehouse Creek fire on February 27, 2024, in the Texas panhandle. The fire has grown to cover 1,078,086 acres as of March 2, 2024. | Texas A&M Forest Service via Getty Images

Wildfires have ravaged the Texas Panhandle, claiming two lives and forcing evacuations as the Smokehouse Creek Fire becomes the state’s largest recorded blaze. Amid this devastation, Christian organizations, including Convoy of Hope, Texas Baptist Men and Operation Blessing, have mobilized, offering crucial support to affected communities.

Covering over 1 million acres, the fire’s vastness surpasses the size of Rhode Island, and was 15% contained as of Friday.

The Texas A&M Forest Service reported that the state has experienced 132 wildfires this year, with 58 active this week spanning over 1.2 million acres. The Smokehouse Creek Fire, the largest among them, prompted a brief shutdown of a nuclear plant earlier in the week. Other major fires listed by the Forest Service include: the Grape Vine Creek Fire in Gray County that spans 30,000 acres (60% contained), Windy Deuce Fire in Moore County covering 142,000 acres (60% contained), and the Magenta Fire in Oldham County that involves 3,300 acres (85% contained). 

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has declared a disaster in 60 counties, enhancing the state’s emergency response. The National Wildfire Coordinating Group notes that other fires, including the Windy Deuce and Grape Vine Creek Fires, continue to challenge containment efforts.

Tragically, the fires have resulted in fatalities. Cindy Owen lost her life in Hemphill County under harrowing circumstances, while Joyce Blankenship, an 83-year-old former substitute teacher, was found deceased in her home.

The extent of property damage remains uncertain, with assessments ongoing.

Texas Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller told the BBC on Thursday that it's likely thousands of animals have died. He said in a press release on Wednesday that many grain and seed operations have also "reported total losses." 

"Just my prediction, but it will be 10,000 that will have died or we'll have to euthanize," he said. "A lot of those cattle are still alive but the hooves are burned off, the teats are burned off, their udders are burned off. It's just a sad situation."

"There are millions of cattle out there, with some towns comprising more cattle than people," Miller added. "The losses could be catastrophic for those counties. Farmers and ranchers are losing everything."

Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, who assessed the damage from a helicopter this week, said in a video update on Wednesday that "the damage is much worse than what is being reported." 

"There are literally hundreds of structures burned to the ground — houses, barns," Jackson said in the video update on X. 

President Joe Biden, addressing the crisis during a visit to Texas, pledged federal support for the firefighting and recovery efforts. He emphasized the unity in disaster response, irrespective of political affiliations.

Officials warn of the potential for conditions to worsen over the weekend.

Meteorologist Douglas Weber and AccuWeather’s Jon Porter were quoted as saying that the snow and moisture brought temporary relief, but cautioned against the rapid drying that could escalate fire risks again.

In response to the crisis, Convoy of Hope has dispatched relief supplies and is coordinating with local partners in Texas and Oklahoma, said the organization, whose efforts aim to provide immediate aid and support recovery as conditions allow.

Similarly, Texas Baptist Men have deployed volunteers and resources to Fritch, assessing needs and providing essential services to the evacuated residents. “The days ahead will require long hours of service in a sensitive situation,” Texas Baptist Men said. “People have lost everything they own. They’re looking for help. But they’re also looking for hope for the days ahead.”

Texas Baptist Men requested prayers for its volunteers so they can “provide the practical help people need and can point people to Christ, who brings hope and healing.”

Operation Blessing has also joined the relief operations, sending a team from Virginia Beach to Amarillo. Their deployment includes a mobile kitchen, emergency supplies, and a shower trailer, aiming to assist residents and first responders, the organization said.

Meanwhile, local fire departments, volunteers and residents are also coming together to rebuild and recover.

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