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Rapidly expanding wildfires in the Texas Panhandle prompt evacuations

Wildfire forces evacuations

A rapidly widening Texas wildfire doubled in size Tuesday and prompted evacuation orders in at least one small town as strong winds, dry grass and unseasonably warm highs fueled the blaze in the state's rural Panhandle.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties as the largest fire burned more than 300 square miles (780 square kilometers), according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. That is more than twice its size since the the fire sparked Monday. Authorities have not said what might have caused the blaze, which tore through sparsely populated counties surrounded by rolling plains.

“Texans are urged to limit activities that could create sparks and take precautions to keep their loved ones safe,” Abbott said.

The largest blaze, known as the Smokehouse Creek Fire, closed highways and remained 0% contained as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the Forest Service.

Multiple fires were reported across Hemphill and Hutchinson counties, near the Oklahoma border. Texas state Sen. Kevin Sparks said an evacuation order was issued for the town of Canadian, a town of about 2,000 about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northeast of Amarillo, and other areas.

The National Weather Service has issued red flag warnings and fire danger alerts for several other states through the midsection of the country, as high winds of over 40 mph (64 kph) combined with warm temperatures, low humidity and dry winter vegetation to make conditions ripe for wildfires.

In central Nebraska, a mower sparked a prairie fire that has burned a huge swath of grassland roughly the size of the state's largest city of Omaha, state officials said Tuesday.



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