Hutchison County, Texas in the Panhandle area experiencing a record three years of drought was devastated by a wildfire that took 100 homes and caused 700 residents to evacuate on Sunday May 11th. According to authorities the fire was fueled by the dry grass and high winds. Hutchinson County is in the northern portion of the Texas Panhandle, in an area less effect by the drought, but still experiencing dry conditions that can fuel a wildfire. The county, established in 1876 is roughly 60 miles away from Amarillo, Texas. The town was part of the oil field population boom in the 1920’s.
At its height the fire was viewed as threatening up to 1,200 homes in the areas surrounding Fritch, Texas with gusts of winds of up 50 m.p.h. hampering containment efforts. Hundreds of acres have already been affected by the fire, putting the entire town at high risk, and sending emergency fire control management teams in the area scrambling for to evacuate residents as well as attempting to control the fire. Fritch Police Chief Monte Leggett announced by late evening, Sunday that Arrowhead, Harbor Bay, Lake Meredith Harbor, and the entire city of Sanford were evacuated as the management teams struggled to keep residents safe as fire spread through the evening hours.
According to the Leggett the wind continued to make directional changes throughout the early evening and night, making the fire “almost impossible to fight”. He also stated that until daylight and increased visibility the fire would continue to remain tough to fight.
Mutual aid was requested and fire departments throughout the Panhandle area and New Mexico joined the fight to the giant blaze. Volunteers from the Texas Panhandle and Eastern Panhandle Chapters of the Red Cross were reported on the way to the towns affected to render aid and support to those evacuated.
By 5 a.m. Central Standard time, the fire was reported to be 75% contained. The Texas Forest Service provided the area with a spotter airplane and two air tankers loaded with fire retardant to drop on hotspots, according to Danny Richards the coordinator for the Hutchinson County Emergency Management. Firefighters also hoped that as a northern blew in the early hours of Monday morning air moisture would increase, making it easier to fight the remaining hot spots.
While April saw a little relief from the record prolonged drought in the Panhandle area the Climate Prediction Center still referred to the eastern Texas Panhandle area as abnormally dry, and the drought has shown signs of spreading and deepening with extreme areas now being Dallam, Hartley, Sherman, Moore, Oldham, Potter, Randall, Carson, and Deaf Smith counties all experience the worst of the drought conditions.