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Catastrophic wildfires destroying homes, cattle and livelihoods

FRITCH - Catastrophic wildfires rip across the Texas panhandle are threatening to destroy more homes, cattle and livelihoods as the largest wildfire in state history.

Rancher Jason Wilhelm is already clearing the remains of his home in Canadian among the charred trees is the debris of his children's sandbox. His wife grabbed what she could before evacuating.

"She got a bunch of pictures, she got some money that we had saved up, and lots of sentimental things: blankets, pictures," Jason Wilhelm said. "The kids got some of their toys, a few things. But other than that, that's about it. About all she could really fit in her car."

To battle the state's biggest wildfire in history, first responders drive through an inferno of smoke and flames.

Texas Wildfires
Fire officials from Lubbock, Texas, help put out smoldering debris of a home destroyed by the Smokehouse Creek Fire, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Stinnett, Texas. Julio Cortez / AP

They weren't able to save Rian Hightower's home.

"I run to the door and I see... it looked like armageddon. It looked like the end of the world," Hightower said. "It's heartbreaking, not just for me and my family but for all the other families that have lost."

Families lose everything in panhandle wildfires 02:36

The Smokehouse Creek fire began on Monday and has devoured 1,700 square miles so far, with plenty of fuel to keep it going.

"Most of the fuels around here are dried grass, though, in some of the drainages and stuff, you can get some heavier fuel, some trees, some brush, things like that," said Sean Dugan with Texas A&M Forest Service.

Drone video shows mile after mile of scorched ranchland. The fire has destroyed homes, killed cattle, and taken a heavy toll on the community.

Texas Wildfires
A charred field is seen behind the remains of a property burned by the Smokehouse Creek Fire, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, in Canadian, Texas. Julio Cortez / AP

"I lost two dogs and two cats," said Richard Murray, who lives in Canadian. "It's still emotional. This is our life. I mean, we've been here for 50 years, and it's pretty tough."

A dusting of snow gave firefighters some help, but with higher temperatures in the forecast, emergency workers say their battle is far from over.

There is no word yet on what sparked the wildfire. As of Thursday afternoon, fire officials said it was just 3 percent contained. 

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