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Texas Panhandle wildfires leave "dead animals everywhere" as agricultural commissioner predicts 10,000 dead cattle

Thousands of Texas cattle lost to wildfires
Texas farmers on thousands of cows killed in Panhandle wildfires: "You can lose it overnight" 02:29

The historic wildfires ravaging the Texas Panhandle aren't just destroying homes. Officials say the fires are devastating the agricultural community – a vital component of the state – and leaving "dead animals everywhere" as farms and ranches take massive losses. 

Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson of the state's 13th District said in a video update on Wednesday that after viewing the impact of the fires from a helicopter across several counties, "the damage is much worse than what is being reported." 

Since Wednesday, the most prominent of the active fires, the Smokehouse Creek Fire, has merged with another blaze and is now the largest wildfire in the state's history and believed to be the second-largest wildfire in U.S. history. It's so far burned nearly 1.1 million acres, and weather conditions in the days ahead could help fan the flames even further. 

"There are literally hundreds of structures burned to the ground – houses, barns," Jackson said in the video posted to social media. "There are dead animals everywhere – cattle, horses. Unfortunately, there are many animals that are seriously burned, that aren't dead yet, that will have to be put down." 

Texas Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller said on Thursday that it's believed thousands of animals have died. He said in a press release on Wednesday that many grain and seed operations have also "reported total losses." 

"Just my prediction, but it will be 10,000 that will have died or we'll have to euthanize," he said, according to CBS News partner BBC. "...A lot of those cattle are still alive but the hooves are burned off, the teats are burned off, their udders are burned off. It's just a sad situation." 

Miller said in Wednesday's statement that more than 85% of the state's cattle population is in the Panhandle. 

"There are millions of cattle out there, with some towns comprising more cattle than people," Miller said. "The losses could be catastrophic for those counties. Farmers and ranchers are losing everything."

Photos show undetermined numbers of dead cattle along charred lands.

In an emotional video posted on Thursday, Morgan Broome of the disaster relief group Rancher Navy said many of the cattle in the Panhandle "have been lost." Among other donations, the group is looking for heavy equipment to help bury the deceased livestock. 

FILE PHOTO: Wildfires burn and prompt evacuations in Texas
Cattle that were killed by the Smokehouse Creek wildfire lay in a burned field, outside of Canadian, Texas, U.S., February 28, 2024. Nick Oxford / REUTERS

"We don't have accurate numbers, but we're hearing reports of thousands of cattle and horses dead," she said through tears. "And because of that, the hay needs are less than what we anticipated them to be. ... This is emotional for all of us." 

And it's not just farm animals. Many locals have lost their pets in the fires. 

"I lost two dogs and two cats," Richard Murray, who lives near the town of Canadian, told the Associated Press. "It's still emotional. This is our life. I mean, we've been here for 50 years." 

After being exposed to smoke during the Texas Panhandle wildfires, this small farm animal was given an albuterol treatment to help with lung inflammation.  Marni Prater

The toll has been devastating, but many Texans, especially those in the agricultural community, have been rallying to help each other, offering their time, land, labor and supplies. 

One woman, Marni Prater, wrote on Facebook that she is treating livestock in the towns of Stinnett and Fritch with a nebulizer, for free, and has also offered up medical supplies for livestock.

Prater told CBS News she purchased the treatment about two years ago for a horse that was struggling with allergies. 

"I was in contact with my vet after the fires as 5 of our horses had to be left behind and the fire line came right up to our property in both sides and they were in smoke and active fire for hours on Tuesday night," she told CBS News in a message. She said her horses "seem to be doing great" and will be checked out by veterinarians over the weekend. 

The vet said she could use the albuterol on other animals who had inhaled wildfire smoke, and Prater was able to secure more albuterol donations and is now working to help others in her community. 

One of those animals is a 2-week-old goat whose mom died in the fires and whose owner "lost everything they had," Prater said. 

"[They] couldn't care for her any longer and asked us to help take her in so she had a chance to survive," Prater said, adding the goat is doing "much better." 

"We have been doing breathing treatments 3 times a day and she immediately perked up and yesterday she finally started eating well," Prater said. "I've been bringing her to work with me and everywhere I go so I can make sure we stay on top of her care." 

Horses seen running on Texas highway as wildfire smoke fills the sky 01:08
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