The Texas A&M Forest Service is the lead agency for wildfire response in Texas. On February 28, 2024, Governor Gregg Abbott authorized the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) to mobilize state firefighting resources to support local officials in their response to wildfires impacting the Panhandle, the South Plains, West, and Northwest Texas.

On February 28, 2004, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry reported that the “Smokehouse Creek Fire burned more than 250,000 acres in Texas and Oklahoma [the total acreage burned had not been assessed]. Other fires in the area – including the Catesby Fire and the Slapout Fire, have combined to burn more than 100,000 acres.”

On March 7, 2024, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to aid recovery efforts for farmers, ranchers, and residents affected by recent wildfires in the Texas panhandle and western Oklahoma. At that date, around 1.3 million acres had burned across both states [estimated acreage burned].

The fires began on February 26. As is typical for West Texas winter wildfire behavior, these devastating fires burned for 36 hours, or one-and-a-half days. The containment of the wildfires began. Containment is a confusing term and does not mean the fire is out. We explain below. The dollar amount of total destruction is not yet compiled, only estimated. 

How Will the 2024 Texas Panhandle Fires Affect Its Outdoor Recreation?

The recent wildfires affected Panhandle Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), the Lake Meredith National Recreation Area (NRA), and the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument. Alibates is closed from the devastation of the Windy Deuce Fire. A local cowboy in 1906, Allen “Allie” Bates is the park’s namesake. 

Lake Meredith remains open, and its current fire risk is high. The park is currently not under a burn ban, but visitors are to follow all campfire regulations and use caution. An estimated 11,000 to 12,000 acres burned in the Lake Meredith National Recreation Area.

The National Park Service reports, “Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument is going to remain closed until they can come in and determine when it’s going to be safe to reopen to the general public…The National Park Service is preparing the next step in the process of post burn surveys where they will examine the landscape and determine the severity of damage.”

On March 8, 2024, Eric Smith, Alibates Parks Superintendent, said, “I would say this is the costliest disaster this park has encountered. The road leading into Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument is closed after all 4,000 acres of the national park burned from the Windy Deuce Fire.”

Wildfires and Wildlife

Wildlife populations were affected by the February wildfires. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Gene Howe Wildlife Management Area comprises midgrass rangeland, mixed cottonwood, and tallgrass bottomland ecosystems.

Dr. Jacob Dykes, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension wildlife specialist, reported, “This is an unprecedented event with a widespread impact on wildlife habitat and food availability. When we typically discuss the positive impacts of fire on wildlife and their habitat, we focus on smaller, controlled burns.”

Experts are focusing on recovery and the long-term positive ecological response following a fire that benefits wildlife. An estimated 5,100+ acres of the Gene Howe WMA’s 5,394 acres burned. Chip Ruthven is the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) project leader of Panhandle WMAs. 

Ruthven said, “Despite the considerable fire footprint, he and others have encountered a promising number of surviving wildlife on the property, including deer, turkey, quail and a variety of songbirds.” He said that pockets of unburned rangeland scattered throughout the burn area provided a safe refuge for wildlife and continued,

“Cover for ground-nesting birds such as quail and turkey may be limited this spring but given adequate rainfall, it should improve by early to midsummer.” Dr. Dykes added, “Fire rapidly breaks down the nutrients in vegetation and delivers them to the soil. If the area has sufficient precipitation afterward, there will be a great response from grasses and herbaceous flowering plants sooner rather than later.

“This resprouting vegetation will contribute to species diversity, leading to a variety of wildlife cover on the landscape. Additionally, this new vegetation will provide nutrient-dense forage and browse for species ranging from insects to large mammals.”

Texas Panhandle Fires FAQ

Where Are the Texas Panhandle Fires?

The February 26 wildfires affected 60 West Texas and Oklahoma counties. Carson, Gray, Hemphill, Hutchinson, Moore, Oldham, and Roberts Counties in the Panhandle suffered major damage. These fires spread into the Oklahoma Panhandle and Western Oklahoma. 

Where Are the Fires in Texas Happening?

From the Texas A&M Forest Service, May 6, 2024: 

“Texas A&M Forest Service is not currently responding to any active wildfires burning across the state. Contained Wildfires, 100%.”  

How Many Acres Did the Panhandle Fire Burn?

The major fires were:


Smokehouse Creek Fire north of Stinnett, Texas, in Hutchinson, Roberts, Hemphill and other counties, quickly spread from 300,000 to 850,000 acres and to parts of the Oklahoma Panhandle and Western Oklahoma. The Smokehouse Creek Fire was later estimated to have burned 1,058,482 acres and, as of May 6, 2024, 1.2 million acres. 

Windy Deuce Fire in Moore County: estimated at 144,000 acres burnt.

Grape Vine Creek Fire: estimated at 34,883 acres burnt. 

Magenta Fire in Oldham County: estimated at 3,297 acres burnt.

Roughneck Fire in Hutchinson County: estimated at 300 acres burnt.

Wellhouse Fire in Carson County: estimated at 50.5 acres burnt.

May 6, 2024: “Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service economists project the Panhandle wildfires caused $123 million in preliminary agricultural losses, making it the costliest on record.”


Smokehouse Creek Fire burned an estimated 31,596 acres in Roger Mills and Ellis counties in Oklahoma.  

Catesby Fire in Ellis County: estimated at 90,699 acres burnt. 

Slapout Fire in Beaver County: estimated at 26,048 acres burnt. 

North Beaver fire in Beaver County: estimated at 674 acres burnt. 

The Oklahoma State University Extension estimates that total damages from western county fires are estimated to cost $32.9 million.

What Started the Panhandle Fires?

The Smokehouse Creek fire started Feb. 26, one mile north of Stinnett, Texas, by the intersection of County Road 11 and County Road O., about 60 miles northeast of Amarillo. Xcel Energy is named in 15 lawsuits over the February 26, 2024, Texas panhandle wildfires.

Xcel Energy released a statement on their news release website on March 7, 2024, that reads in part:

“Our thoughts continue to be with the families and communities impacted by the wildfires in the Texas Panhandle. We are also grateful for the courageous first responders that have worked to fight the fires and help save lives and property… 

“Xcel Energy has been cooperating with the investigations into the wildfires and has been conducting its own review. Based on currently available information, Xcel Energy acknowledges that its facilities appear to have been involved in an ignition of the Smokehouse Creek fire…

“Xcel Energy disputes claims that it acted negligently in maintaining and operating its infrastructure; however, we encourage people who had property destroyed by or livestock lost in the Smokehouse Creek fire to submit a claim to Xcel Energy through our claims process. We will review and respond to any such claims in an expeditious manner, with a priority on claims from any person that lost their home in the Smokehouse Creek fire.”

The Texas House of Representatives Investigative Committee on the Panhandle Wildfires on May 1, 2024, reported:

“Increased incidence of wildfire in the Panhandle since 2006 may be attributed to a number of factors. Incentivized by the federal government’s Conservation Reserve Program (“CRP”), cultivated farm acreage has steadily decreased, dramatically increasing the area’s fuel loads and eliminating fire breaks provided by cultivated fields. 

“Aging and inadequately maintained utility poles often fail, sparking ignitions. A regulatory “no-man’s land” permits irresponsible oil and gas operators to neglect fuel loads and dangerous electrical safety problems on and around well site locations, where exposed wiring and other dilapidated electrical equipment make for ready ignition sources.”

What Caused the Rapid Growth of the Wildfires in the Texas Panhandle?

Unseasonably hot temperatures, strong winds, a cold front, and an increase in the number of hot and dry days created conditions conducive to wildfires this February 2024. 

What Does Containment and Control Mean in Fire Fighting Terms?

When news outlets report that a fire is contained or a fire is under control, they do not explain those terms. Containment refers to a physical barrier that has stopped the fire from spreading or expanding. The public may hear the term “cold black” in news reports.

“Cold black” is a term used by firefighters to describe the perimeter of a wildfire that has been contained. A cold black edge next to the fire refers to a line inside the cold black where the fire may still have heat, but it will not escape outside the cold black, unless there are high winds. The containment increases continually as the fire fighting process progresses.  

“Controlled” means a fire is completely extinguished and fire fighters have established a perimeter with control lines. Control lines are man-made barriers, or strips of land that have been cleared of potential fuels and crews have dug trenches by hand or machinery. 

These trenches are typically 10- to 12-feet wide. The width of the line depends on the slope, and the steeper the slope, the deeper the trench must be. 

From the Texas House of Representatives Investigative Committee on the Panhandle Wildfires, May 1, 2024:

State authorities knew there was a high probability of wildfires in West Texas before February 26, but the federal government did not act until after the fires broke out. 

“Although the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM) dispatched and began staging ground forces on Friday, February 23rd, the federal government did not have contracted aircraft in place to timely respond to the 2024 Panhandle wildfires. According to Nim Kidd, Chief of TDEM, because the rest of the country, and particularly the West Coast, was not in fire season in late February of 2024, the federal government did not take the threat posed to Texas seriously.”

“Livestock losses According to the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, approximately 15,000 individual head of cattle are known to have been lost in the wildfires. The value of cattle depends on various factors like weight, sex, age, and class. Cow-calf pairs were valued as high as $3,000 in April of 2024, with calves in the 500–600 pound range selling for $3.14 per pound and bulls at $10,000. AgriLife estimates cattle losses to be valued at $27 million.

To read the entire Investigative Committee report on the February 26, 2024, Panhandle wildfires, click here.

Kendall Davis
Author: Kendall Davis

Author: Kendall Davis Company: Lumini Services Kendall currently lives on the shores of Lake Texoma in Texas. She traveled across two-thirds of the U.S. for many years camping at lakes, rivers, and three oceans before motels and hotels if at all possible, and she continuously saw God's presence in nature. Writing for Lakehub allows Kendall to share her experience with God's creations.

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