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Texas nuclear weapons facility pauses operations amid spreading wildfires

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Texas nuclear weapons facility pauses operations amid spreading wildfires

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The largest blaze, known as the Smokehouse Creek Fire, closed highways and remained zero percent contained as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the Forest Service.

The main facility that assembles and disassembles America’s nuclear arsenal shut down its operations Tuesday night in Texas as fires raged out of control near its facility. Pantex issued a statement online saying it had paused operations until further notice.

“The fire near Pantex is not contained,” the company said. “Response efforts have shifted to evacuations. There is a small number of non-essential personnel sheltered on-site.”

Since 1975, Pantex has been the U.S. main assembly and disassembly site for its atomic bombs. It assembled the last new bomb in 1991. In the time since, it has dismantled thousands of weapons.

Pantex is located 30 miles east of Amarillo.

Multiple fires were reported across Hemphill and Hutchinson counties near the Oklahoma border, where some evacuations were also ordered.

Texas state Sen. Kevin Sparks said an evacuation order was issued for the town of Canadian, a town of about 2,000 about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northeast of Amarillo, and other areas. Later 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 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 taking place in Skellytown, Wheeler, Allison and Briscoe, according to the National Weather Service in Amarillo.

About 40 miles southwest of Canadian, city officials in Pampa on Facebook suggested that residents evacuate to the south and said buses were available for that purpose. Officials said personnel were still fighting the fire Tuesday night but that residents of Pampa could return home.

“They were able to get the fire stopped north of town,” weather service officials said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

To the west, at least some residents in the small city of Fritch in Hutchinson County were told to leave their homes Tuesday afternoon because of another fire that had jumped a highway.

“Everything south of Highway 146 in Fritch evacuate now!” city officials said on Facebook.

Officials with Hutchinson County emergency management and in the nearby city of Borger, which had also been evacuated, posted Tuesday night on Facebook places where evacuees could shelter in both cities. They said so many fires were burning in the county that it was “extremely hard” to keep everyone on the same page while they respond on the front lines.

“We have areas without power, water, and active burning,” the post said. “Pray for the safety of all involved. And pack your go bag just in case. That is the best information we know how to provide right now.”

On Tuesday evening, the fires were 20 to 25 miles from Amarillo, and wind was blowing wildfire smoke into the city, which could affect people with respiratory issues, weather service officials said.

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