Gray County Judge Chris Porter on the Texas Panhandle Wildfires


Considered now as the largest wildfire in Texas history, the February 27 wildfires that scorched more than 600,000 acres across the Texas Panhandle will forever serve as an example of the destructive and unexpected nature that comes as a price to live in the greatest part of this country.

But as disaster strikes, the whole world can see the resilience and fighting spirit that the top of Texas communities and its citizens carry to overcome such hardship.

Gray County Judge Chris Porter offered nothing but the utmost praise for the brave firefighters and volunteers who stepped up and faced the blazing battle head on.

“We have the bravest and most courageous people in the world fighting these fires and they know what they’re doing. There are times we have differing opinions on how to do things, but I’m there to support no matter what. They’ve all got ideas and sometimes you’ve got to listen to their experience.”

When inquired about what the County Judge has to do during an event like this, Judge Porter was blunt and straightforward: get out of the way.

“My job is to get out of the way. My job is to make sure that if they’re having a problem with the State, I’m the guy that calls and says what’s the problem? If they’re having a problem getting water, I’m the one who figures out where we’re going to get resources,” Judge Porter said.

But trying to get resources from a part of Texas that is unfamiliar with the unexpected weather patterns of the Texas Panhandle was no easy feat as Judge Porter had to go toe-to-toe with a few representatives.

“I called the Forestry Service on Monday when everything kicked off and I got told by the guy who works there well it’s not fire season yet so we don’t have air assets contracted. So I’ve had multiple conversations with our state people and at times have told them if you want to come see fire season early, just come on up here and I’ll show it to you. It’s very frustrating at times.”

“Until you’ve been in it and smelled smoke and seen the fire, don’t sit in Austin and tell me how to run it. I know where these guys are at and I know what they’re doing and they know what they’re going to do.”

Unable to receive further assistance, all departments had to put their heads together and quickly come up with a plan, including deciding whether or not to issue an evacuation order.

Immediately after issuing a voluntary evacuation order, the citizens living on the north side of town didn’t want to take their chances and jumped on the opportunity to evacuate, resulting in Hobart Street becoming entirely congested with no movement.

“The lights on Hobart threw a kink into everything because people were stopping for the lights. We had DPS inside the EOC talking to TxDOT who were able to turn all the lights green and that helped get some of that chokehold out of there.”

“I would say we learned a lot of things with that evacuation. We had some deficiencies there that we have to get corrected.”

As with any disaster, plans for it may look immaculate on paper, but when unexpected events foil that plan, thinking on your feet becomes extremely crucial.

“If I had this to do again, we probably would’ve put two evacuation routes: one being towards Celanese that’s south down by Groom and then south down 70. But at the time, the fire was moving so fast from the north and the smoke was so thick, we weren’t able to find the fire in the smoke. So you sure don’t want to send people out into the smoke and then find out there’s flames in the general vacinity of it. So that thought process made a very quick decision.”

“Those brave firefighters, who are the most courageous people I’ve ever been around, stopped it cold. I could not say enough good things about Trent Price. All of our firefighters and chiefs are phenomenal and they’re great at what they do. But Trent Price has this incredible gift to think like that fire and know what it’s going to do. His decisions and the decisions of our emergency management and the decisions of our firefighters and road crews-he pinpointed where it was coming through and they stopped it dead in its tracks. And it’s not the first time he’s done it. We are blessed to have him-all of them.”  

“There was not a doubt in my mind that we were going to lose part of Pampa on Tuesday night. And Hoover Volunteer Fire Department, Pampa Fire Department, Lefors Volunteer Fire Department, the City of Pampa Maintainers, County Maintainers, County Tankers, City Tankers all met at the airport with Troy Schweigerath and said this is what we’re gonna do and took some very heroic steps to save our town.”

While all of the fire departments and volunteers were on the frontline, the community wanted to make sure they took care of each other and the service members.

From churches and businesses offering shelter for the citizens of Pampa and other evacuated towns to surrounding counties taking in livestock and animals, it’s no wonder that the citizens of the Texas Panhandle believe that this is the best little part of the country.

“We have the greatest people in the world right here,” Judge Porter said. “That’s why I’m here. The last 72 hours have been just challenge after challenge, and I know that our people have always risen to the challenge.”  

Numerous donations were set up for each fire department for either monetary contributions or food, water and other resources.

While most wildfires are expected during the hotter months of the year, it’s proven itself to be a threat to the Panhandle all year round, so monetary donations for the Pampa Fire Department and surrounding volunteer fire departments are gladly accepted throughout the year. 

“We are a unique and special people. I’ve had the privilege of being around the most brave and courageous people we’ve got and wouldn’t trade them for anybody,” Judge Porter concluded, reiterating that even in times of crisis, Texans know how to take care of each other.