Texas Fire Chief Killed Fighting Blaze in Tiny Town Devastated by Wildfires

City of Borger
City of Borger

A volunteer fire chief in the tiny Texas town of Fritch, which has been devastated by recent wildfires in the Texas Panhandle, died Tuesday after he suffered a medical while fighting a structure blaze.

The neighboring town of Borger confirmed the death of Zeb Smith, saying his death is a “profound loss” to the community, especially after a tumultuous week where volunteer firefighters have worked around-the-clock to protect the community from wildfires.

In a statement, Borger officials said Smith was the first to arrive at the scene of a structure fire on Tuesday when he faced “unforeseen challenges” that sent him straight to a hospital in Borger, where he died.

Authorities did not specify if Smith’s medical emergency was related to the structure fire or wildfires.

Smith had been among the firefighters from Fritch, a town of 2,000, and Hutchinson County who’ve worked since last week to battle the Windy Deuce wildfire, which had burned 144,000 acres and was just 55 percent contained on Tuesday. Other smaller fires have broken out near Fritch as conditions remain dry and windy—a dangerous combination for wildfires.

“Chief Zeb Smith served the Fritch and Hutchinson County community with selflessness and dedication,” Borger officials said. “His exemplary leadership was evident in his tireless efforts over the past week, where he worked diligently to protect and safeguard his community and fellow citizens.”

In a post of its own, the Fritch Volunteer Fire Department said Tuesday that is “not OK.” It urged residents to be patient with them as they grieve the loss of their leader while simultaneously pushing back the Windy Deuce fire.

“Just know that right now, we are not OK,” they wrote. “We love our Chief, our Brother, our Friend. Please be patient with us.”

The announcement came just hours before Gov. Greg Abbott was expected to meet with firefighters in a nearby town that’s experienced heavy destruction.

Other agencies in North Texas posted tributes to Smith, including the Amarillo Area Office of Emergency Management.

“Chief Smith was a true hero, a dedicated public servant, and a cherished member of The Fritch Fire Department family,” they wrote. “Throughout his years of service, he led with courage, compassion, and unwavering commitment to the safety of the Fritch community. We are grateful for Chief Smith’s selfless service and the countless lives he saved.”

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