Fire chief of Texas town in region hit by wildfires dies fighting separate blaze

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The occurrence main of a mini municipality successful nan Texas Panhandle region wherever large wildfires person been burning died responding to an unrelated building occurrence Tuesday, officials said.

Fritch Fire Chief Zeb Smith was responding to a building occurrence successful nan metropolis astatine astir aft 7 a.m. erstwhile he went wrong to cheque for group who needed rescue and ne'er came out, a spokesperson for nan Hutchinson County Office of Emergency Management said.

Fritch Fire Chief Zeb Smith.Fritch Fire Chief Zeb Smith.City of Borger's Office of Emergency Management

Smith was first connected nan segment of nan occurrence successful nan municipality of astir 1,800, officials said. He was recovered by a accelerated consequence squad wrong nan location astatine astir 7:30 a.m., emergency guidance agency spokesperson Brandon Strope said astatine a news conference.

Smith's origin of decease has not been determined.

“This building occurrence was not straight related to nan ongoing wildfires,” Strope said.

“However, I would beryllium remiss if I did not opportunity that Chief Smith, on pinch each different unpaid firefighter successful this region and successful his department, has responded for nan past 9 days actively fighting these fires,” he said. “So, I deliberation we each tin opportunity pinch beautiful bully certainty that it did person a domiciled successful today’s unfortunate incident.”

Hutchinson County Judge Cindy Irwin, nan apical executive for nan county’s government, said Smith was a dedicated nationalist charismatic committed to protecting nan information of nan community.

“It was his dedication to this work that yet led to his death,” she said. “Just arsenic we’ve travel together arsenic a organization to support 1 different during these wildfires, we’ll proceed to support nan family of Chief Smith.”

Hutchinson County, wherever Fritch is located, was wherever nan alleged Smokehouse Creek Fire — now nan largest wildfire successful authorities history — began past week.

The Roughneck Fire, which has burned astir 355 acres, is besides burning northeast of Fritch. That occurrence was 90% contained arsenic of Tuesday, according to authorities agency Texas A&M Forest Service.

The Windy Deuce Fire, which is astir 144,000 acres and is 55% contained, is westbound of nan city.

Two group person died successful nan panhandle wildfires, officials person said.

Phil Helsel

Phil Helsel is simply a newsman for NBC News.