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At least two dead as largest wildfire in state history tears through Texas Panhandle

ABC News

(AMARILLO, Texas) — Several large wildfires continue to tear through northern Texas, including one that has grown into the largest blaze in state history.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire that ignited in Hutchinson County remained active Thursday, with just 3% containment, the Texas A&M Forest Service said. The flames, which cover an area larger than the size of Rhode Island, have spread across state lines, with more than a million acres burned in Texas and 25,000 acres burned in Oklahoma.

The East Amarillo Complex Fire, which burned also in Hutchinson County in 2006, had been the largest in the state’s history at just under 1 million acres, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

Texas A&M Forest Service confirmed to ABC News there was one wildfire-related fatality in the small town of Stinnett, Texas.

ABC News confirmed a second person had died. Cindy Owen, 44, who had been making deliveries, was caught up in the fire’s smoke. Authorities found her alive outside the truck, and she was transported to an Oklahoma City burn unit, where she died Thursday morning.

The Windy Deuce Fire that ignited in Moore County was also still active as of Thursday afternoon, having burned an estimated 142,000 acres and was 50% contained. The Grape Vine Fire that ignited in nearby Gray County had burned an estimated 30,000 acres and was 60% contained as of early Wednesday, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

The raging wildfires have consumed swathes of the Turkey Track Ranch, a 120-year-old, 80,000-acre private property located along the Canadian River in the Texas Panhandle. The sprawling, historic ranch has been up for sale and is listed at $180 million.

“The loss of livestock, crops, and wildlife, as well as ranch fencing and other infrastructure throughout our property as well as other ranches and homes across the region is, we believe, unparalleled in our history,” managers of the Turkey Track Ranch Family Group said in a statement Wednesday. “Our early assessment estimates that The Turkey Track Ranch has suffered and lost approximately 80% of our pastures, plains, and creek bottom vegetation. We continue to assess the total damage to other infrastructure and the loss of livestock.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday declared a disaster declaration for 60 counties due to “widespread wildfire activity throughout the state.”

The weather forecast for Thursday shows relative humidity will be high, with cooler temperatures and a chance of rain and snow for the Texas Panhandle, which would help with firefighting efforts. Wind gusts could get up to 30 miles per hour, but aren’t expected to be as extreme as they were earlier in the week.

However, unseasonably warm and windy weather is expected to return to wildfire-ravaged region this weekend, creating ideal conditions for critical fire danger. Temperatures in the Texas Panhandle are forecast to surpass 70 and even 80 degrees Fahrenheit from Friday through Sunday, while wind gusts could be 30 to 45 mph.

ABC News’ Max Golembo and Marilyn Heck contributed to this report.

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