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Extreme winds fuel fast moving wildfire in Texas Panhandle

Orlin Wagner/AP
A threat of wildfires persisted Thursday across the Southern Plains after wildfires fueled by high winds broke out in Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Dozens of fire crews are battling a wildfire in the Texas Panhandle that expanded rapidly on Wednesday due to extreme winds topping 70 mph. The Texas A&M Forest Service says the North 207 fire, about 50 miles northeast of Amarillo, has burned a path across the southern plains grasslands nearly a mile wide and 15 miles long.

About 65 state and local firefighters are working to control the blaze. That includes 32 fire engines and seven bulldozers and motor graders.

Texas A&M Forest Service spokesperson Robyn Atwood said a break in the wind has made it easier to respond to the fire, which had spread to about 23,000 acres and was 80% contained as of Friday morning.

“They've got a significant amount of 'dozer line pushed around the perimeter and they're working on getting all the way around the perimeter,” she said.

No injuries or property damage have been reported, but several homes were evacuated near Skellytown as a precaution. Atwood said freeze-cured and drought-cured grasses, in addition to relatively low humidity, and above average temperatures also contributed to the speed of the fire’s advance.

“With wind conditions like that, it’s really hard to get in front of the fire, but we try our best especially whenever we know the fire’s pushing hard, pushing fast.”

Atwood said the threat of wildfires persists across the Southern Plains. In addition to wildfires in Texas, both Kansas and Oklahoma are also facing an outbreak of blazes fueled by high winds.

Joseph Leahy anchors morning newscasts for NPR's statewide public radio collaborative, Texas Newsroom. He began his career in broadcast journalism as a reporter for St. Louis Public Radio in 2011. The following year, he helped launch Delaware's first NPR station, WDDE, as an afternoon newscaster and host. Leahy returned to St. Louis in 2013 to anchor local newscasts during All Things Considered and produce news on local and regional issues. In 2016, he took on a similar role as the local Morning Edition newscaster at KUT in Austin, before moving over to the Texas Newsroom.