Fire chief dies in Texas wildfires

City of Borger


The wildfires that devastated the Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma over the past week took another tragic turn this week as a volunteer fire chief in the small Texas town of Fritch collapsed and died while fighting a house fire.

Reports indicate Zeb Smith suffered a medical seizure, prompting his community to call his death a “profound loss.” In the neighboring town of Borger, officials said Smith was the first to arrive at the scene of the house fire when he faced “unforeseen challenges” that sent him straight to a local hospital where he died, according to the Daily Beast.

Trees stand burned from the Smokehouse Creek fire on Sunday, March. 3, 2024, in Hemphill Co.

Smith and other volunteer firefighters have spent the past week fighting huge wildfires which as of Tuesday had burned more than 1.3 million acres of land. His is the third death related to the fires which last week killed an 83 year old woman trapped in her burning home and a young woman truck driver who fled her vehicle and failed to outrun consuming flames.

aerial satellite smoke fire (Satellite image ©2024 Maxar Technologies)

As of Wednesday, there remained five active wildfires in the region, inclluding the Smokehouse Creek Fire which burned nearly 1.1 million acres, including some in Oklahoma after it swept across the state line and destroyed homes and structures in Ellis and Roger Mills counties.

The death toll on livestock is estimated at more than 3,600 head of cattle leaving grisly scenes of burned animals. The toll is expected to climb, perhaps double or triple in the coming days, according to Sid Miller, commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture.

“It’s a ghastly sight,” Miller told USA Today, recounting hundreds of cows lying dead on smoldering fields. “We’ve never seen anything like this.”

Meanwhile farmers and ranchers in Oklahoma and northern Texas have pitched and donated huge amounts of hay and feed for the remaining cattle left to wander on burned and barren land.


In the latest fire update from the Oklahoma Forestry Division, the state indicated, more of the state’s wildfires were under control, but fires were still burning in the western part of the state.

Fire Activity with OFS Response outside of the Protection Area: 2 New Fires Burned 933 Acres
• Catesby Fire (Ellis County) – 90,699 Acres Est. / 63% Contained
• Slapout Fire (Beaver County) – 26,048 Acres Est. / 95% Contained
• ***Smokehouse Road Fire (Texas / Oklahoma) – 1,059,570 Acres / 37% Contained (Reduction in acres due to Improved Mapping)
o OK Smokehouse (Ellis/Roger Mills Counties) – 31,596 Acres / 95% Contained

Oklahoma Forestry Division leaders say rain chances look promising for Thursday, but at the same time, drier air will move into the far western areas of the state in the afternoon, “driving potential for elevated fire weather over dry, heavily loaded rangeland fuels.”

They believe rain chances will become more widespread in the overnight hours but “the better chances of truly wetting amounts remain focused in central and eastern Oklahoma.”

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