Wildfires prompt evacuations in Texas and Oklahoma

Wildfires spread rapidly in Texas and Oklahoma early Wednesday, prompting evacuations and the shutdown of a nuclear weapons dismantling plant.

In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration on Tuesday for 60 counties, activating state resources to help local firefighters and urging residents to limit activities that could cause sparks.

The largest current fire in the Texas Panhandle, the Smokehouse Creek Fire, has burned the least 300,000 hectares since Monday’s ignition, fueled by high winds and dry conditions, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. The fire remained out of control early Wednesday morning.

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

Near Amarillo, the fire was burning north of Pantex, a plant that disassembles nuclear weapons, officials said. The plant suspended operations and ordered the evacuation of non-essential personnel.

There were no fires at the plant site or near its boundaries, but nuclear safety officials were responding, said Laef Pendergraft, a nuclear safety engineer in the National Nuclear Safety Administration’s Pantex production office. The factory has a fire department on site, he said, speaking at a news conference.

Unusually high temperatures and strong winds have also fueled wildfires elsewhere in the Great Plains, including Nebraska and Kansas.

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