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A rush to historic Texas wildfires in rural plains puts AP ahead

Firefighters battle the Smokehouse Creek Fire north of Canadian, Texas, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 AP PHOTO / DAVID ERICKSON

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Wildfires are not unusual in the rural Texas Panhandle. But when a rapidly growing blaze threatened a nuclear facility near Amarillo and set off sudden evacuation orders in small towns, AP moved fast to get reporters across all formats to the scene and deliver sweeping coverage. The fires in Texas’ cattle country erupted hundreds of miles away from the closest AP bureaus. Oklahoma City reporter Sean Murphy jumped in the car first and arrived in the hard-hit town of Canadian in time to see firefighters putting out hot spots and residents getting the first glimpses of their destroyed homes. Knowing that visuals were a priority in such a remote corner of Texas, Murphy took compelling and creatively framed images of the early damage on his iPhone, then immediately uploaded them to a Slack channel to expedite getting the photos on the wire. He also recorded some of the first on-camera interviews of residents picking through rubble and uploaded the video quickly, allowing AP producers to turnaround a fast edit for customers. The versatility and speed by Murphy, a text reporter, put AP in position to build on that fast start when photographer Julio Cortez and video journalist Ty O’Neil arrived a short time later. Cortez used a drone to record striking overhead visuals of the destruction and O’Neil went up live to customers shortly after touching down in Texas.

O’Neil’s video on the massive cattle losses was AP’s most downloaded customer video and Cortez’s photos showed up across members, including the centerpiece on the front page of The Dallas Morning News.

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