Texas Fires Bring Loss to a Small Town That Already Knows It Well

Mickey German has lived just about his entire life in Fritch, Texas, but Fritch has not always made it easy.

He recalls watching from the safety of a bar, The Renegade, in 1992 as a storm brought a cluster of tornadoes through Fritch, leveling his apartment and 200 other homes. Then, in the spring of 2014, a blaze that locals call the Mother’s Day fire incinerated about 225 more.

Now, another disaster has devastated Fritch, a tight-knit town of about 1,900 people, and made Mr. German, 54, homeless again. His apartment was among dozens consumed by flames last week in one of several active wildfires that have burned a combined 1.2 million acres in the Texas Panhandle.

“It was up in smoke,” Mr. German, a maintenance worker at a gas station, said on Tuesday as he stood outside of his temporary residence at the Lone Star Motel. “This one hurt.”

The population here has been in steady decline for decades, and, after this latest catastrophe, residents are wondering which of their neighbors may be the next to pack up and leave. Between the 2010 and 2020 censuses, the town lost 12 percent of its residents. Still, many feel drawn to stay, wanting to live somewhere where everybody knows everybody and where sticking around through adversity is seen as a mark of achievement.

“I know there’s a few I’ve talked to that say, ‘I’m done,’ but I ain’t going nowhere,” Mr. German said while smoking a cigarette by his truck, one of the few possessions he was able to save from the blaze. “I won’t let it be me. No chance in hell. It’s home.”

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