Texas town’s fire chief dies while battling wildfire in fire-ravaged region

The fire chief of a small town in the Texas Panhandle region, where large wildfires have been burning, tragically lost his life while responding to an unrelated structure fire on Tuesday, according to officials.

Fritch Fire Chief Zeb Smith responded to a structure fire in the city at approximately 7 a.m. As part of his duties, he entered the building to search for individuals who may have needed rescue. However, according to a spokesperson from the Hutchinson County Office of Emergency Management, Chief Smith did not emerge from the structure.

Smith was the first person to arrive at the scene of the fire in the small town of around 1,800 residents, according to officials. During a news conference, Brandon Strope, spokesperson for the emergency management office, revealed that Smith was discovered by a rapid response team inside the house at approximately 7:30 a.m.

The cause of Smith’s death has not been determined yet.

According to Strope, the structure fire that occurred was not directly linked to the ongoing wildfires.

“I can’t ignore the fact that Chief Smith, along with all the other volunteer firefighters in this county and his department, has been tirelessly battling these fires for the past nine days,” he acknowledged. “So, it’s safe to say that it definitely played a part in today’s unfortunate incident.”

Hutchinson County Judge Cindy Irwin, who serves as the county’s highest-ranking government official, expressed her admiration for Smith’s unwavering dedication to public service and his strong commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of the community.

“It was Chief Smith’s unwavering dedication to his duty that ultimately cost him his life,” she said with a heavy heart. “Just like how our community has united to stand beside each other during these devastating wildfires, we will stand by Chief Smith’s family and offer them our unwavering support.”

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The Smokehouse Creek Fire, which has now become the largest wildfire in the history of Texas, originated in Hutchinson County, where Fritch is situated.

The Texas A&M Forest Service reported that as of Tuesday, the Roughneck Fire, which has scorched approximately 355 acres, was 90% contained. Another fire is also raging northeast of Fritch, known as the Roughneck Fire.

The Windy Deuce Fire, currently spanning approximately 144,000 acres and with a containment rate of 55%, lies to the west of the city.

Officials have confirmed that two individuals have lost their lives in the devastating panhandle wildfires.

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