Massive Wildfires Igniting Havoc Throughout Texas; Older Persons Impacted

Posted on 02/28/24 by Mark Hollis

Texas A&M Forest Service image.jfif
As of Thursday (Feb. 29), the Smokehouse Creek Fire was up to approximately 1,075,000 acres in the Texas Panhandle region and several new fires have popped up. Image Credit: Texas A&M Forest Service

Massive wildfires have turned deadly as they tear through the Texas Panhandle and beyond, consuming homes, cattle ranches and forcing residents to evacuate.

The Texas Tribune and other news sources are reporting that two people have died in the fires, including an 83-year-old woman, and several firefighter injuries have occurred.

Fires have ravaged 2,000 square miles and multiple Texas counties have been ordered to leave while some residents are being told to shelter in place as the fires encroach on populated areas. Smoke and poor air quality is impacting nearly all of the state, and it’s complicated by shifting winds.

Earlier this week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration to deploy resources to 60 counties impacted by the devastating wildfires throughout the state. Firefighters and law enforcement from across Texas and elsewhere have been mobilized to deal with the crisis.

One of the fires, the Smokehouse Creek Fire, has scorched about 1.1 million acres and is considered the largest fire to impact Texas in modern times. The fires are expected to burn for days and are creating havoc in parts of Oklahoma. Conditions are ripe for wildfires in New Mexico and other nearby states.

The potential for wildfire activity will increase again for the Plains region this weekend due to strong winds and dry fuels.

“Strong winds and warm temperatures have resulted in grasses drying across many portions of Texas,” said Wes Moorehead, Texas A&M Forest Service Fire Chief. “As firefighters continue to suppress active fires, we urge Texans to be cautious with any outdoor activity that may cause a spark.”

Areas with dry grass may support wildfire activity due to accidental ignitions from activities that cause a spark, including fireworks.

As Texans make plans to celebrate Texas Independence Day March 2, Moorehead said they should use extreme caution when using fireworks or any other outdoor activity.

Approximately 90 percent of wildfires are caused by humans and their activities, and holidays and celebrations can pose an increased risk of fire starts.

Numerous governmental and non-profit agencies – including the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, and groups affiliated with the United Way -- are working to provide assistance. Some donation sites have been set up to help victims of the wildfires. See below a list of some of the organizations offering help.

The wildfires are striking just as Texas is in the midst of early voting.

AARP Texas Director Tina Tran said now is an important time for Texans to work together for matters of public safety and health, and she noted that when hazards – whether natural or human-made – strike, the consequences tend to be harder on older adults than on younger age groups.

Older residents, Tran said, are at a disproportionately high risk during emergencies and disasters. Older adults often have mobility difficulties that make it harder to get out of harm’s way. They often lack access to transportation. They might be socially isolated, with no friends or family nearby to help. They may be reluctant to leave a pet behind. And many older adults lack the financial means to prepare for disasters or relocate.

Download here information about the AARP Disaster Resilience Kit

The current wildfires serve to remind that homeowners and businesses can do several things before wildfires affect an area. Find information on wildfire safety and prevention on the Wildfires page and know that public officials advise of these steps:

· Have several ways to receive emergency alerts. Download the FEMA app and receive real-time alerts from the National Weather Service for up to five locations nationwide.


· Make an emergency plan. Learn your evacuation routes, practice with households, pets, and identify where you will go.

· Review important documents. Make sure your insurance policies and personal documents like ID are up to date.

· Strengthen your home. Use fire resistant materials to build, renovate or make repairs. Create a fire-resistant zone that is free of leaves, debris or flammable materials for at least 30 feet away from your home, as possible.

Our changing climate has led to more frequent and intense disasters ravaging communities. In 2023 alone, the U.S. experienced an all-time high of 28 billion-dollar plus disasters, including deadly wildfires, that ravaged communities and forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee from their homes.

AARP has reported on how extreme weather and natural disasters are impacting older persons. Read more about it here: 

As the wildfires rage, Texans are urged to stay close to reliable news sources and government officials. Here are some contacts to help wildfire victims:

This story is provided by AARP Texas. Visit the AARP Texas page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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