6 Killed in Southern Plains Wildfires Including 4 in Texas

Wildfires kill four in Texas, one in Kansas, one in Oklahoma

Wildfires in Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado have killed six people, driven thousands of people from their homes and scorched hundreds of square miles of land.

The Texas A&M Forest Service and the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center predictive services had forecast extreme fire weather for the northwest half of the Panhandle and critical fire weather west of a line from Childress to Midland.

A wildfire in the Texas Panhandle has killed three ranch hands, two of whom were a young couple in their 20s trying to usher cattle away from the flames.

Firefighters from North Texas have been deployed to the Panhandle to assist in fighting the wildfires.

Winds across the Panhandle should subside for Wednesday, according to the TFS, but elevated fire conditions return to the area Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

Lefors East Fire Claims Couple, Ranch Hand Trying to Save Cattle
NBC 5 News/Sydney Wallace (Facebook)
Foreground: Sydney Wallace and Cody Crockett, inset, were killed in a wildfire trying to usher cattle away from flames Monday, March 6, 2017. Background: Wildfires destroy hundreds of thousands of acres in the Texas Panhandle Tuesday, March 7, 2017.

A wildfire in the Texas Panhandle has killed three ranch hands, two of whom were a young couple in their 20s trying to usher cattle away from the flames.

Gray County Judge Richard Peet said Tuesday that the two men and the woman were killed when the Lefors East Fire flared Monday afternoon. The three were identified Tuesday morning as Emmert Sloan, Cody Crockett and Sydney Wallace.

Crockett and Wallace, both in their 20s and were listed as a couple on Facebook.

Peet, the county's top administrator, said one of the three apparently died of smoke inhalation late Monday while the other two suffered severe burns and died while being taken to hospitals. Peet said winds of more than 55 mph fanned the flames.

The Lefors East Fire is 25 percent contained, according to the TFS, and has burned an estimated 92,571 acres.

The Lefors East Fire was separate from one to the west near Amarillo (Dumas Complex Fire) and from another much larger one just to the north (Perryton Fire) near the Oklahoma border that has burned 460 square miles of land.

Four Firefighters Injured Battling Wildfires; Backup Coming from North Texas
Dallas Fire-Rescue Wildland Team
The DFR Wildland Strike Team has arrived in the Panhandle with their Tactical Tender. Heading out soon to assist with the wildfires.

Phillip Truitt, a spokesman for the Texas A&M Forest Service, said as many as four firefighters were hurt battling the fires Monday. He provided no details on their conditions Tuesday morning.

The Fort Worth Fire Department said Tuesday afternoon they sent three firefighters and two brush trucks to the Panhandle as part of State of Texas Assistance Request (STAR) for a strike team to battle the wildfires.

Dallas Fire-Rescue sent five members of their Wildland Urban Interface Team to Canadian as part of a tactical strike team to help battle the Panhandle wildfires. The Dallas firefighters left Tuesday morning and are expected to be deployed for seven days.

The following departments also contributed the following firefighters: Stephenville (3), Weatherford (2), Southlake (2), Lewisville (1) and Flower Mound (1). A total of five brush trucks and one water truck were also sent from the region.

Fire departments in Collin County – including Frisco, Plano and McKinney – are also awaiting possible deployment. 

"Bags are packed, we're waiting," said Frisco Fire Dept. Battalion Chief Shannon Brinton. "Fortunately we have a lot of folks who really want to go out and lend a helping hand, so it’s not too difficult to fill the spots, which is a good thing."

The strike teams who are sent consist of specially trained wildland firefighters.

Perryton Fire

The Perryton Fire, located in Ochiltree and Lipscomb counties in the Panhandle along the Oklahoma line, is about three times larger than officials originally thought, and is believed to have claimed one life.

Hemphill County Judge George Briant confirmed the fourth Panhandle fire death Tuesday; the victim's name has not yet been released.

The Perryton Fire has burned an estimated 315,35 acres and destroyed at least two homes. It is burning primarily in grass and brush.

Truitt said the size of the Perryton Fire was revised after authorities were able to fly over the area to get a more accurate sense of the damage.

Firefighters were able to divert the fire away from the communities of Higgins and Glazier, saving the towns. The fire is about 50 percent contained with fire behavior reported as moderate to high.

A fire's intensity, rate of spread, available fuel, topography, spotting and crowning (burning through the tops of trees) are all factors that play into determining a fire's behavior as low, moderate or high.

Dumas Complex Fire

The Dumas Complex Fire, in Potter County near Amarillo, is about 90 percent contained Tuesday after consuming an estimated 29,197 acres since it ignited amid humidity in the single digits and winds in excess of 50 mph.

The TFS said Tuesday forward progression of the fire has been stopped and crews are making good progress in fighting the fire.

Currently one air attack aircraft is assigned and two single engine airtankers have made fire retardant drops on the fire yesterday Mar. 6, 2017.

TFS ground resources including fire engines, and bull dozers are actively engaged in firefighting efforts on this wildfire in conjunction with local resources. Unified command with Amarillo Fire Department.

The Dumas Complex Fire's behavior is low.

Oklahoma Truck Driver Killed by Smoke Inhalation

An Oklahoma truck driver killed by smoke inhalation on a highway in southern Kansas was the fifth person killed in a series of wildfires across the central plains.

The Kansas Highway Patrol says 39-year-old Corey Holt, of Oklahoma City, jackknifed Monday while trying to back up his tractor-trailer on highway 34 in Clark County because of poor visibility and dust from the fires. The patrol said he succumbed to smoke when he got out of his vehicle.

Two SUVs crashed into the truck, injuring six people who were taken to hospitals, state trooper Michael Racy said.

Kansas wildfires have burned about 625 square miles of land. The vast majority of the state's burned land is in Clark County, where 30 structures were damaged, said Allison Kuhns, a spokeswoman for the county's emergency management office. About half of those structures are near the small city of Englewood, which was one of two communities evacuated. Kuhns said there also have been significant cattle losses and that entire ranches were engulfed.

The fire originated across the state border in Oklahoma, where it burned an estimated 390 square miles in Beaver County.

The largest evacuations elsewhere were in Reno County, Kansas, where 10,000 to 12,000 people voluntarily left their homes Monday night, said Katie Horner, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Emergency Management. She said 66 people from the area were in shelters Tuesday in Hutchinson, 40 miles northwest of Wichita.

Oklahoma Woman Suffers Fatal Heart Attack Fighting Fire

Authorities say Oklahoma woman has fatal heart attack fighting blaze, raising four-state wildfire death toll to six.

The woman was trying to keep her farm near Buffalo from burning, according to AP reports.

Further details, including her identity, have not yet been released.

Colorado Firefighters Lose Ground

In northeastern Colorado near the Nebraska border, firefighters lost ground to a blaze in rural Logan and Phillips counties.

They had the blaze 90 percent contained Monday evening, but only 50 percent contained Tuesday, despite working overnight to douse hot spots and flare-ups.

The fire has burned more than 45 square miles of land and destroyed three homes. Nearby residents were warned to be ready to evacuate if the fire advances.

MORE: Texas A&M Fire Service: Fire Danger, Current Situation

NBC 5's Frank Heinz contributed to this report. Associated Press writers Heather Hollingsworth and Jim Suhr in Kansas City, Missouri; John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas; Dave Warren in Dallas; and Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this report.

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