Since late last week, a series of wildfires in Texas have burned 86 houses, with one of the blazes consuming practically an entire town.
Over the weekend, four fires in Eastland County, roughly 120 miles west of Dallas, consumed 54,000 acres and killed a sheriff’s officer assisting residents with evacuations.
The Eastland Complex wildfires began Thursday and were still burning at three of the four locations on Sunday, authorities said. A new wildfire was reported Sunday in Eastland County. It has consumed around 250 acres and is currently 20% contained.
Within three hours of erupting, the blazes razed 86 homes to rubble and consumed almost 85 percent of Carbon, a tiny hamlet with a population of 225, according to the Dallas Morning News.
The flames started Thursday and swiftly expanded as they feasted on dry brush and were aided in their spread by wind gusts of up to 40 mph.
On Friday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency in 11 counties and ordered flags in Eastland County to be lowered to half staff in honor of Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Deputy Barbara Fenley, his office reported.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, Fenley was going door to door on Thursday, convincing individuals to leave. Her final communication stated she would check on an older person in Carbon, Texas.
‘Due to the rapidly deteriorating circumstances and reduced visibility caused by smoke, Sgt. According to the sheriff’s statement, Fenley went off the roadway and was consumed by the fire.
Carbon residents spent the weekend rummaging through the wreckage and recovering what they could.
According to the Dallas Morning News, Wendy Forbus, a local business owner, and preacher, assisted with recovery operations on the ground as her husband, Jody Forbus, the town’s fire chief, observed the damage from a helicopter.
‘The fire leaped from field to field as though it had its own life. Everywhere you look, it appears as though a bomb has gone off. I’ve seen this building burn before, but never quite like this,’ Forbus told the news organization.
‘This place is surreal. We can only do the best with what we have, but it seems like every time you believe the worst is over, more is stolen,’ she added.
After the couple’s home was destroyed in a fire in 2006, Jody pledged to combat fires and joined the fire department shortly after that.
On Thursday night, paramedic Chris Gibson traveled from Erath County, approximately 40 miles east, to aid Carbon. He told the Dallas Morning News that the smoke was so dense that he couldn’t see the face of the person standing in front of him.
‘If you can imagine hell on earth, that is how Carbon seemed. It happened so quickly that our presence was irrelevant. ‘The city has been left to fend for itself,’ he explained, adding that the only thing preventing another conflagration from the beginning is ‘pure, blind luck.’
‘Things such as trees may smoke for weeks, and the humidity is nowhere near as bad as anticipated. We are far from secure, and so we wait for something we pray will never arrive,’ he explained.
Since Wednesday, several first responders have worked consecutive 20-hour hours, and Gibson believes that some may have respiratory diseases in the coming weeks due to smoke inhalation.
‘One thing about firemen in Texas is that they never quit up. I wish they weren’t had to prove it in this manner,’ he continued.
When Seth Griffin heard the fire was growing, he hurried to his parents’ home in Carbon. ‘By the time I arrived, the fire was just a block away. I was certain I would perish if I walked inside. He explained that that’s sixteen years wasted to the Dallas Morning News.
‘This is not an appropriate way to view the world – your world. However, I am unable to change it,’ he continued.
Mary Griffin, his mother, was at Eastland’s First Baptist Church on Saturday as the fires continued to spread. ‘It just became stronger and stronger,’ she explained to Fox 26.
‘We had cops tell us, ‘Y’all need to go,’ and I was just gathering things to take with me,’ she explained.
Mandi Whittlesey, the music pastor of First Baptist Church, told the news source that the church is collecting goods for individuals who have lost everything and sheltering members of Texas Task Force 1 while they battle the fires. ‘All we need is for people to come and tell us where to take it, or for people to come and grab it since it is here.’
Eastland County is home to around 18,000 people. Texas A&M Forest Service spokesman Matthew Ford said that around 475 houses in Gorman were evacuated, but officials are unsure how many structures burnt, Texas A&M Forest Service spokesman Matthew Ford said.
As of Sunday, Fenley was the sole fatality documented. His wife and three boys survive the 51-year-old deputy.
‘She couldn’t give a damn about who you were or what you did. ‘She was always going to be there; whether you were five or eighty-five, she would look after you,’ her son Jon told NBC 5.
Cisco Police Department paid homage to their sisters on Facebook, stating that she would be much missed.
‘She was a unique servant and a shining example of our line of work. We will bow in prayer for her family, friends, and coworkers at this difficult time. ‘Rest in peace, my dear buddy; you will be missed.’
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush lauded Fenley’s gallantry. Deputy Fenley was murdered last night while attempting to rescue civilians from the flames raging throughout West Texas. ‘Bush tweeted that her contributions to our state will not be forgotten.
On Friday, the National Weather Service in Fort Worth cautioned that most Western and Central Texas faced an increased danger of fire due to dry, windy weather and asked citizens to check for local burn restrictions and use caution when handling anything that might ignite a grass fire.
‘Last summer was quite dry, and that trend persisted throughout the fall and winter,’ said National Weather Service meteorologist Madison Gordon. With the passage of winter, ‘we now have a significant amount of firewood accessible in fields.’
The flames created foggy conditions hundreds of miles away, with the Houston Fire Department and the city’s Office of Emergency Management alerting residents to smoke and ash on Friday morning.
Social media videos of the conflagration show the flames morphing into what looks to be a ‘fire tornado.’ In contrast, another film shows the entire scope of the gigantic blaze from above, as seen from a nighttime airplane.
A 103-year-old Baptist church in downtown Ranger, Texas, roughly 85 miles west of Fort Worth, was destroyed Thursday by fire. The police department and other historic structures were also destroyed, according to Dallas television station WFAA.
According to Roy Rodgers, a deacon of Second Baptist Church, the third story and roof collapsed, while the remainder of the structure sustained substantial smoke and water damage.
Rodgers said the church’s next Sunday service would be held across the street in a parking lot, where the congregation will determine what to do.
Rodgers described the situation as ‘heartbreaking.’ ‘Many people are taking it very personally because they have links to the church.’