As the Smokehouse Creek Fire in the Texas Panhandle swept past the million-acre mark, becoming the largest wildfire in the state’s history, Gov. Greg Abbott declared a disaster in 60 counties. As of the morning of March 1, Texas A&M Forest Service reports that the blaze was 15% contained and has now spread into neighboring Oklahoma. It is one of a handful of fires that have spread over the region in the past week, fueled by strong winds, dry grass and unseasonably warm temperatures.

Marchant tyrell
Editor / Progressive Cattle

Though the area affected by the wildfires is sparsely populated, two confirmed deaths have been reported as of Friday morning as a direct result of the fires. Authorities expect the impact on the state’s livestock industry to be heavily impacted by the resulting loss of pasture, stored feed and what is expected to be tens of thousands of killed cattle.

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

Though light snowfall tempered the fire’s spread late this week, potential for wildfire activity is expected increase again for Texas’s Plains region over the weekend due to strong winds and dry fuels, according to Texas A&M Forest Service.

Since Sunday, Feb. 25, Texas A&M Forest Service has responded to 56 wildfires burning more than 1.2 million acres, in addition to three previously active wildfires that have burned about 175,000 acres combined and are at various levels of containment.


“These fires not only threaten lives and property, but will also have a substantial impact on our agriculture industry,” Texas agriculture commissioner Sid Miller said. “Over 85% of the state’s cattle population is located on ranches in the Panhandle. There are millions of cattle out there, with some towns comprising more cattle than people. The losses could be catastrophic for those counties. Farmers and ranchers are losing everything.”

Though the losses are sure to be devastating to individual producers and communities in the Texas Panhandle, Miller said he does not expect the losses to be large enough to “drastically change the overall production numbers of cattle in the United States.”

The Texas Deparment of Agriculture is collecting donations through its State of Texas Agriculture Relief (STAR) Fund to aid in disposing of dead animals, rebuilding facilities and buying new fencing materials.

Wildfires have also recently ripped through central Nebraska, burning more than 71,000 acres. Governor Jim Pillen declared a disaster for the area on Feb. 26, which will open up resources for crop and livestock producers from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service to aid in recovery – resources that will almost surely be available to similarly affected producers in Texas. However, officials are advising that those measures will take time to put into motion and are subject to approval, and are recommending that producers interested in those programs consult with staff at local agency offices. Documenting losses of land, facilities or livestock is critical in producers’ ability to receive compensation for wildfire-caused losses.

Affected cattle producers in Nebraska have been invited to attend an informational meeting to learn about available recovery resources on March 12 at the University of Nebraska’s West Central Research Extension and Education Center in North Platte, Nebraska.