Texas Fire Chief Dies After Battling Ongoing Wildfires For 9 Days

Fritch Volunteer Fire Department Chief Zeb Smith

Photo: City of Fritch

Fritch Fire Chief Zeb Smith tragically passed away in the line of duty, battling a structural fire, as reported by Hutchinson County Commissioner Gary Alexander.

The 40-year-old hero reportedly suffered a fatal heart attack during his efforts to extinguish a house fire on Tuesday (March 5) morning.

In a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, officials said that Smith had responded to the house fire around 7 a.m. local time that day.

“Chief Smith, a dedicated public servant, was the first on the scene, demonstrating his unwavering commitment and service to the Fritch community,” Hutchinson County officials said in a press release on Tuesday morning. “During the response, Chief Smith faced unforeseen challenges and, despite emergency medical assistance and quick transportation to Golden Plains Community Hospital, tragically succumbed to his injuries.”

Brandon Strope, a representative from the Hutchinson County Office for Emergency Management, stated, “Chief Smith arrived on the scene, he entered the residence, the structure, to identify if there was anyone inside that needed to be rescued. Chief Smith did not exit that residence.”

At 7:30 a.m., fellow responders discovered the chief and promptly administered medical aid.

Officials swiftly transported him to a local hospital, where he tragically passed away from his injuries. An autopsy was requested to determine the exact cause of his death.

“This structure fire was not directly related to the ongoing wildfires. It did not start as a cause of those wildfires,” Strope clarified, adding, “However, I would be remiss if I did not say that Chief Smith, along with every other volunteer firefighter in this county and in his department, has responded for the last nine days actively fighting these fires. So, I think we all can say with pretty good certainty that it did have a role in today’s unfortunate incident.”

The flag at the Fritch Volunteer Fire Department is at half staff following death of Fire Chief Zeb Smith.

The flag at the Fritch Volunteer Fire Department is at half staff following death of Fire Chief Zeb Smith.
Photo: Trevon Gay/KVII

Smith assumed the role of chief of the Volunteer Fire Department in 2020.

“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 (from the Windy Deuce Fire),” said the city.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Smith’s family during this heartbreaking time.

For days, firefighters in the Texas Panhandle have been tirelessly battling the historic wildfires.

On Wednesday, February 28th, several major wildfires, including the second-largest on record in Texas, ravaged the state’s panhandle. The fires prompted evacuations, property damage, and a temporary shutdown of the nation’s primary nuclear weapons facility.

The fires first started two days before, rapidly expanding due to strong winds, dry conditions, and high temperatures.

By Wednesday, the “Smokehouse Creek Fire” had engulfed 850,000 acres, spreading across multiple counties and even reaching into Oklahoma.

RELATED: Texas Wildfire Reaches Second-Largest Size In State’s Recorded History

According to a recent update from the Texas A&M Forest Service, the fire has now consumed thousands more acres.

“The [Smokehouse Creek Fire] in Hutchinson County is an estimated 1,076,638 acres and 15% contained. Firefighters continue suppression actions on the fire. Aviation provided support on the fire. Acreage change due to more accurate mapping. This is subject to change.”

In just over a week, the handful of wildfires in the Texas Panhandle have scorched nearly 1.25 million acres. This staggering figure is comparable to the total land burned by thousands of fires across the entire state from 2017 to 2021.

There are several ways that you can help to support the wildfire victims. Even small contributions can make a big difference during this challenging time.

If you would like to make a donation, please visit the Texas Panhandle Wildfire Relief Resources here.