An arial view of town after the Smokehouse Creek fire devastated the region.
An arial view of town after the Smokehouse Creek fire devastated the region.
Brandon Reeves

Gov. Abbott visits region for fire damage briefing

Governor Greg Abbott visited Canadian and Hemphill County Tuesday, March 5, and was briefed about the Smokehouse Creek Fire damage and needs due to the massive wildfire that has burned for well over a week and ravaged the county as well as other parts of the panhandle.

As of March 8th, the Smokehouse Creek Fire was 87 percent contained and has burned more than one million acres, making it the biggest fire in state history. Due to the fire, many houses, ranches, and livestock were destroyed across the Panhandle. Approximately 70 percent of the county was burned, with 47 families being displaced, according to Hemphill County Judge Lisa Johnson.

Johnson said the county will be with those who lost everything throughout the process of rebuilding.

“You are not alone,” she said. “We will rise from these ashes.”

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Governor Abbott said it has been remarkable how the community and region has come together and united during this tragedy noting how the county is “more strongly united than maybe anyone has ever seen.”

“It makes you proud to be a Texan, to see the way Texans handle adversity, Abbott said. However, the unification during this time does not offset or “limit the depth of tragedy these people have experienced, including the loss of life and the total devastation of property.”

Over the past week, countless volunteers have been contributing to clean up efforts and assisting with donation distribution and support for those in need. These volunteers include students, firefighters, and law enforcement whose homes were destroyed.

“It is heartwarming to see the way Texans respond,” he said. “Tragedy, what’s been lost, is nothing short of catastrophic.”

Abbott said while the response has been critical to meeting immediate needs, donations and assistance will be crucial as efforts continue for families who lost homes as well as the ranchers and landowners who need hay, fencing materials, and other supplies for the livestock now in desperate need of food.

These families “face a life of total uncertainty at this time. Everything in their life has been incinerated they are grappling with the immediate consequences of no place to call home,” Abbott said.  “The fact of the matter is, we as a state, and we as a community, we all need to make sure the people who have lost their homes are going to have a pathway of restoration.”

One way to help is to donate to the local First Baptist Church 501c3 that ensures access to those who need the most immediate help. Venmo accounts for local volunteer fire departments have been publicized via the Hemphill County disaster relief task force and their department Facebook accounts. Currently, monetary donations are what is the most helpful means of support, as well as hay.

There is “an extraordinary need for hay”, Abbott said. “There has been a big outpouring of support, but the hay that has been delivered has already been used.”

Throughout the coming days, weeks, and months, the region’s ranchers and those “who have lost every tangible thing of value in their lives” will need continued support, including from the state and federal government.

Rick Avery, director of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, said while the first concern is human life, “we’re also concerned about the long-term effects of this regional economically.”

“While there are immediate needs that are being met right now, we must always remember that this is an ongoing event,” Avery said. “After all the flames have been doused, those needs will continue.”

Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd said the agricultural community is “such an important part of our state’s business that we will do everything we can to make sure that our ag producers in this area of the state and federal resources that they need.”

Kidd said the Smokehouse Creek fire has a perimeter of over 550 miles and that as fire season continues, people need to be vigilant in helping prevent any new fire starts.

Each of the officials who spoke at the press conference praised the work of volunteer firefighters whose tireless efforts prevented even more substantial damage than what the county already suffered.

“Because of the remarkable efforts of the firefighters, they were able to limit the loss of life,” Abbott said. “It’s remarkable.”

Kidd said it has been a combined effort from multiple agencies and volunteers who “have just come out of the woodwork just to do everything they can and help” to make sure there are no unmet needs in the communities affected by the Smokehouse Creek fire.

“And I just want to take my hat off to the students that our out there helping right now as well,” Kidd said. “I want to thank them very much and to the parents of those students. You’re raising them right. Thank you for that.”

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Kathia Aragon
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Hello! My name is Kathy Aragon and I am a news writer for our journalism team this year! This is my first year being in journalism as well. I am 16 years old and a Junior at Canadian Highschool.
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