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Wildfires prompt shutdown of nuclear weapons facility in Texas

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A series of wildfires have swept across the Texas Panhandle, prompting evacuations, cutting off power, and forcing the temporary shutdown of a nuclear weapons facility.

Strong winds, dry grass and unseasonably warm temperatures fed the blazes in the US state, according to officials.

An unknown number of homes and other structures in Hutchinson County were damaged or destroyed, local emergency officials said.

The main facility that assembles and disassembles America’s nuclear arsenal shut down its operations on Tuesday night, but said it would reopen for normal operations on Wednesday.

Laef Pendergraft, a spokesperson for National Nuclear Security Administration’s Production Office at Pantex, said during a news conference: “We have evacuated our personnel, non-essential personnel from the site, just in an abundance of caution.

“But we do have a well-equipped fire department that has trained for these scenarios, that is on-site and watching and ready should any kind of real emergency arise on the plant site.”

Early on Wednesday, Pantex posted on X that the plant “is open for normal day shift operations” and that all personnel were to report for duty according to their assigned schedule.

Pantex is about 17 miles north-east of Amarillo and some 320 miles north-west of Dallas.

Since 1975 it has been the US main assembly and disassembly site for its atomic bombs. It assembled the last new bomb in 1991 while disassembling thousands.

Republican Governor Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties as the largest blaze, the Smokehouse Creek Fire, burned nearly 400 square miles, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. That is more than twice its size since the fire sparked on Monday.

Authorities have not said what might have caused the blaze, which tore through sparsely populated counties surrounded by rolling plains.

Abbott said: “Texans are urged to limit activities that could create sparks and take precautions to keep their loved ones safe.”

The weather forecast provided some hope for firefighters – cooler temperatures, less wind and possibly rain on Thursday. But for now, the situation was dire in some areas.

In Borger, a community of about 13,000 roughly 25 miles north of Pantex, Hutchinson County emergency management services personnel planned a convoy to take evacuees from one shelter to another ahead of expected power outages and overnight temperatures in the 20s.

As the evacuation orders mounted, county and city officials live-streamed on Facebook and tried to answer questions from worried residents.

Officials implored them to turn on their phones’ emergency alerts and be ready to evacuate immediately. They described some roads as having fire on both sides and said resources were being stretched to their limit.

Texas Senator Kevin Sparks said an evacuation order was issued for Canadian, a town of about 2,000 about 100 miles north-east of Amarillo.

Later on Tuesday, the Hemphill County Sheriff’s Office urged anyone who remained in Canadian to shelter in place or at the high school gym because roads were closed.

Evacuations were also ordered in nearby Miami, and schools in Canadian and Miami announced closures on Wednesday. East of Canadian, fire officials across the border in the area of Durham, Oklahoma, also encouraged people to evacuate because of the fire.

Evacuations were also happening in Skellytown, Wheeler, Allison and Briscoe, according to the National Weather Service in Amarillo. (Irish Examiner)

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