EASTLAND, Texas (AP/KXAN) — An Eastland County deputy was killed while trying to save citizens from devastating fires overnight, Nexstar’s KTAB reported Friday.
Low humidity and gusty winds fueled multiple wildfires in West Texas, burning homes and other structures and prompting evacuations of small communities.
The Cisco Police Department confirmed Deputy Barbara Fenley died during the fires, saying she was “a special servant and an attribute to our profession. We will kneel in prayer for her family, friends and colleagues as they mourn.”
A lifelong friend of Fenley’s — Ronson Childers — described her as a wonderful person, a mother and a wife.
“She was out serving, trying to evacuate people — tragedy struck. She is going to be missed so much,” he said.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday evening ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff in Eastland County in honor of Fenley. The governor also issued a disaster declaration for 11 counties affected by the wildfires, after receiving a briefing from local and state officials on the wildfire activity and response efforts.
Several wildfires merged to form what fire officials call a “complex” that was burning near Eastland, about 120 miles west of Dallas.
As of Friday night, the fires had burned more than 45,000 acres, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. It was only 15% contained, and fires were burning in thick brush and grass fields.
Other smaller fires were burning throughout other areas of Texas, and Thursday’s low humidity and high winds created an ideal scenario for the blazes to quickly grow out of control. Texas A&M Forest Service had warned of a wildfire outbreak this week because of the forecast.
There were no other reports of injuries. Abbott waived vehicle size, weight and permitting requirements so farmers and ranchers can get hay and feed to their livestock as well as other supplies to those who need it.
A nursing home in Rising Star was evacuated, and residents were taken to a community center, Eastland County Today reported.
In the small town of Ranger — about 10 miles northeast of Eastland — a church and several downtown buildings burned Thursday. The fire, which was fueled by high winds, may have started from a barbecue pit, Ranger Fire Department Chief Darrell Fox said.
“We had everything ready throughout the county,” Fox said. “But when we have the winds like there was … and the humidity down to nothing, this is what you’re going to get.”
Fox said the church that burned down was a century old.
“It hurts. It hurts the whole community. This church has been here 100 years,” he said.
Another small town with a population under 400 people, Carbon, is almost completely decimated. Lifelong resident Eric Monk said he’s never seen anything like the flames that engulfed his hometown. He guessed there were about six buildings in his area that survived.
“This community is where I grew up at, well, it’s gone,” Monk said. “It’s just terrible. Everything is gone.”
Residents affected by the fires can seek shelter at the following locations, according to the governor’s office:
- First Baptist of Eastland (405 S Seaman St, Eastland)
- River of Life Church (1247 E Main Street, Eastland)
- Myrtle Wilks Community Center (1498 I-20 Frontage, Cisco)
- Gorman Community Center (118 S Kent St, Gorman)
Volunteer organizations are also stationed at Siebert Elementary (100 Little Maverick Trail, Eastland), the governor’s office said. Hay and feed and temporary animal shelter is set up at the Texas Cattle Exchange (9009 I-20, Eastland).