Texas wildfires: nuclear weapons factory reopens after pause in operations

The main facility that assembles and disassembles America’s nuclear arsenal reopened on Wednesday morning after shutting down its operations on Tuesday night as fires raged out of control in Texas.

The Pantex site in Amarillo in north Texas announced on Facebook that staff should come to work for normal shift operations after it had paused operations.

“The Pantex Plant is open for normal day shift operations for Wednesday, February 28; all personnel are to report for duty according to their assigned schedule.”

The plant updated that there was no fire at the plant site, NBC News reported. There is an unconfined fire north of the plant.

Since 1975, Pantex has been the US 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 (48km) east of Amarillo.

With unseasonably warm temperatures and strong gusts helping to fuel the flames through dry grasses, the largest Texas blaze, known as the Smokehouse Creek fire, has consumed more than 500,000 acressince it ignited on Monday, and remains 0% contained. Two others had collectively scorched more than 38,000 acres and were each 20% contained. The wildfire is now the second-largest on record in Texas, CNN reported.

Mandatory evacuations were issued in Texas on Tuesday afternoon as wind-swept wildfires continued to burn uncontrollably across the Panhandle.

“There has been some structure loss,” said public information officer Juan Rodriguez, who added that it’s too soon to know how many buildings have burned. Rodriguez said high winds are complicating the efforts, even though there’s hope for higher humidity on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday morning, Texas officials are still determining the extent of damage as firefighters work to contain active fires. More than 4,000 homes in Texas are also without power as of Wednesday, reported.

Gusts of up to 65mph and low relative humidity are contributing to critical fire weather conditions and they are not expected to calm soon, according to the National Weather Service. Millions of people across the south-central US remain under red flag warnings. “Stronger winds are anticipated today, and conditions will remain quite favourable for the start and spread of wildfires,” the NWS in Amarillo, Texas, wrote in an update on Tuesday, before urging residents to take extra caution with activities that could cause new ignitions.

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Greg Abbott, the Texas governor, issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties across the region under threat from the fires, stating that additional counties may be added as conditions intensify. The state’s division of emergency management has also been enlisted to provide resources and aid local firefighters in the response. Encouraging Texans to keep their loved ones safe and thanking first responders, Abbott also shared warnings from Texas A&M forest service that risks were high for fires beyond the Panhandle, in regions of the South Plains, Texoma, Permian Basin and portions of east Texas.

The Smokehouse Creek fire, already the fifth largest in the state’s history, burned more than all the fires ignited in Texas last year combined, according to the Texas A&M forest service. Several communities were forced to flee, in some cases through chaos and confusion as the winds changed and exit routes were blocked by closed roads.

Residents in the city of Canadian, a city in Hemphill county, were told to shelter in place on Tuesday afternoon, due to closures of important routes out of the city.

“The wind has shifted from the north,” the sheriff’s office for the town of Roberts posted on Facebook, adding: “If you have not evacuated, do so now.” The city of Borger, in Hutchinson county, meanwhile, posted a plea for patience and instructions to remain off the roads as residents inundated the agency with questions.

“We are trying to keep our pages as up to date as possible. Please understand that fire related situations are rapidly changing. This includes evacuations, active hotspots, and wind shifts,” the city posted online. “We understand it’s inconvenient for the roads to be closed,” they added, “but there is active fire all over our roadways right now. And where there isn’t fire, there is extreme smoke, making visibility nonexistent. Do NOT chance it! [sic]”

The Associated Press contributed reporting