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Watch: What the Texas wildfires mean to the Panhandle region

By Erin Cobb, The Texas Tribune

Watch: What the Texas wildfires mean to the Panhandle region” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Watch a panel discuss the Panhandle wildfires.

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The Texas Panhandle faces a long road of recovery following a series of wildfires this month that have scorched more than 1 million acres.

Federal, state and local governments are working with the communities to support the region, a panel of officials told The Texas Tribune Friday.

“I think it’s fair to say that we’re all feeling overwhelmed right now – overwhelmed with loss and overwhelmed also with the response,” said Hemphill County Judge Lisa Johnson. “The outpouring of help and support has been tremendous, but it’s quite a task to get all those resources in the hands of people that are in need.”

Dozens of families have been displaced and have lost their homes. Native grass in the area has largely been destroyed, lending the region a higher susceptibility to wind erosion. Ranchers have lost their livestock and sense of security of their livelihoods.

The devastation among ranchers will have ripple effects across the entire regional economy, said Monty Dozier, director of the Disaster Assessment and Recovery Program at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

“As you have a healthy ag economy in a rural environment, you have a healthy community. You have availability of resources, so that we can have a dental office here, we can have a grocery store here, the school has money to move forward on programs. It’s very important to help those ranchers recover so that the communities can recover as well.” Dozier said.

Francisco Sánchez Jr., an associate administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Disaster Recovery & Resilience, also expressed concern about the fire’s economic consequences.

“It’s often underappreciated, the role that the rural and agricultural economies play. The vast majority of services that are imported into an urban economy come from the surrounding rural economy,” Sánchez Jr. said. “It’s not just those businesses, that industry that is going to be affected.”

Johnson, who is leading the wildfire emergency efforts in Canadian, is working with volunteer clean-up crews and teams to identify those who have lost their homes and find temporary housing placements.

Panelists emphasized the need for volunteers coming from outside of the community to check in with the city halls, county judges, relief stations or animal supply points in the areas they hope to serve. This helps to ensure the safety of volunteers and efficiency of support to the community.

This is not the first time the Panhandle has burned. Most recently, the Panhandle had fires in 2017 and 2022. In response, Hemphill County created a Wildfire Relief task force that involved many local entities, Johnson said.

Recognizing Hemphill County’s Wildfire Relief task force as a positive example of wildfire preparedness, Dozier expressed that organizing hierarchy of response efforts before disastrous events helps the community know where it can go to access accurate information.

“People, they’re just looking for answers, and the worst thing that we can do is give them five different answers from five different people.” Dozier said.

Johnson said local authorities will reconvene in the coming months to continue to rebuild together and to summarize what they have learned from this event.

“We will have an emergency preparedness meeting with all of our entities in town and anyone that was a part of this emergency effort and recovery effort,” Johnson said. “We absolutely want to learn ways that we can do better, not only with the recovery response, but in the emergency preparedness arena, to make sure there’s great communication with all of our entities to work together when something like this happens.”


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/03/06/texas-panhandle-wildfires-discussion/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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