(Bloomberg) -- Dry, windy weather that’s been fanning the worst Texas wildfire in almost two decades will return later this week after a brief respite of rain and snow.

Fires raging across the Texas Panhandle have scorched homes and ranches, menaced an oil refinery and shut schools and highways in the state’s largest conflagration since the East Amarillo Complex in 2006, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. 

“The bad news is the amount of precipitation they get is not that much” early Thursday, said Paul Pastelok, head of long-range forecasting at AccuWeather Inc. “Winds pick back up again in the afternoon and its starts to get bad again. It only gets worse on the weekend.” 

The region is vulnerable because winter storms have skipped that part of Texas, which already had been struggling with years of drought, Pastelok said. This means the landscape is dry and brush is primed to burn. 

“It just doesn’t look good,” Pastelok said. The fire threat is likely to continue through next week. 

The Phillips 66’s oil refinery in the town of Borger has thus far been spared and continues to operate, spokesman Al Ortiz wrote in an email. Several employees’ suffered property damage and some refinery workers have volunteered for firefighting duties, he added. Mandatory evacuation orders and highway closures are widespread across the region and schools in many municipalities were closed. 

The main US nuclear weapons assembly plant northeast of Amarillo temporarily paused operations late Tuesday and has since resumed its normal schedule. 

The largest blaze, known as the Smokehouse Creek Fire, was burning out of control across 850,000 acres (1,320 square miles) as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the A&M service. That’s an area almost three times the size of New York City.

Four other large fires were also burning that are only partially contained and red-flag fire warnings were posted for South Texas along the Rio Grande. In addition to Texas, the fire threat remains high across the upper Great Plains and parts of the Midwest. Elevated fire conditions are forecast to erupt in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri on Friday, the US Storm Prediction Center said. 

Although wildfires are not uncommon at this time of year in Texas, the state has experienced a series of disruptive seasons that have caused widespread damage in the Panhandle, a key ranching and meatpacking region. The US cattle herd is already at its lowest in decades and further losses could result in higher beef prices. 

--With assistance from Michael Hirtzer, Julie Fine, Barbara Powell, Lucia Kassai and Alex Newman.

(Updates oil-refinery details in sixth paragraph.)

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