Texas wildfires forces evacuations, destroys 86 homes and most of small town of Carbon, killing one in the US
A series of wildfires ravaging Texas since late last week have destroyed 86 homes, with one of the blazes reducing nearly an entire town to ash. Four fires in Eastland County, about 120 miles west of Dallas, have burned 54 000 acres over the weekend and killed a sheriff's deputy who was helping people evacuate. The wildfires, dubbed the Eastland Complex, began Thursday, 17 March 2022 and were still raging Sunday at three of the four sites. A new wildfire in Eastland County was reported Sunday. It has burned around 250 acres and is 20 percent contained. The blazes have reduced 86 homes to rubble and ate up about 85 percent of Carbon, a small town with a population of 225, within three hours of igniting, reported the Dallas Morning News. The fires began Thursday and quickly grew by feasting on dry brush and spreading due to wind gusts up to 40mph. It was unfortunate that Barbara Fenley, a deputy with the Eastland County Sheriff's Office, was killed in the fire while helping other people escape. Fenley has been the only fatality reported as of Sunday. The 51-year-old deputy leaves behind a husband and three sons.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a declaration disaster in 11 counties on Friday and ordered flags to be lowered to half staff in Eastland County in honour of Sheriff's Office Sgt Deputy Barbara Fenley, his office announced. According to the Sheriff's Office, Fenley was going door to door on Thursday, getting residents to evacuate their homes and the last time she communicated she indicated she was going to check on an elderly person in Carbon, Texas. 'With the extreme deteriorating conditions and low visibility from smoke, Sgt Fenley ran off the roadway and was engulfed in the fire,' the sheriff's statement said.
Saturday night the Texas Forest Service released the sizes of the four wildfires in the Eastland Complex:
Kidd Fire: 42 333 acres
Oak Mott Fire: 4 031 acres
Wheat Field Fire: 7268 acres
Walling Fire: 383 acres
Total: 54 015 acres
Residents of Carbon spent the weekend combing through the destruction and salvaging what they could. Wendy Forbus, a local business owner and pastor, helped recovery efforts on the ground as her husband Jody, the town's fire chief, surveyed the damage from a helicopter. 'The fire jumped from field to field like it had a life of its own. Everywhere you turn, it looks like a bomb went off. I've seen this place up in smoke before but never quite like this,' Forbus said. 'It's like a nightmare here. We can only do the best with what we've been given but it feels like every time you think the worst is behind you, more gets taken,' she added. The couple lost their home to a fire in 2006 and Jody vowed to fight flames ever since, joining the fire department shortly after.
Paramedic Chris Gibson came to assist Carbon from Erath County, about 40 miles east, on Thursday night and said that the smoke was so thick he couldn't make out the face of the person standing in front of him. 'If you can picture hell on earth, that's what Carbon looked like. It happened so fast, it didn't even matter we were there. The city was left to fend for itself,' he said, adding that the only thing stopping another blaze from igniting is 'sheer, blind luck.' 'Things like trees can smoulder for weeks, and the humidity isn't nearly as high as we expected. We are far from in the clear, so we wait for what we hope never comes,' he said.
Some first responders faced back-to-back 20-hour shifts since Wednesday and Gibson said he predicts some to come down with respiratory infections in the coming weeks due to smoke inhalation. 'There's something to be said about fire fighters in Texas: They never, ever give up. I wish they didn't have to prove it like this,' he added.
Seth Griffin went to his parents' home in Carbon when he heard the fire was spreading. 'When I finally got here, the fire was only a block away. I knew I wouldn't survive if I went inside. That's 16 years down the drain,' he said. 'This is no way to see the world, your world. But I can't change it,' he added.
A Baptist church in downtown Ranger, Texas, about 85 miles west of Fort Worth, was destroyed Thursday when flames engulfed the 103-year-old building. The police department and other historic buildings were also burned, Dallas TV station WFAA reported. Roy Rodgers, a deacon at Second Baptist Church, said the third floor and roof collapsed and the rest of the building had extensive smoke and water damage. Rodgers said the church plans to hold its next Sunday service in a parking lot across the street, where the congregation will decide what to do.
Sources: Associated Newspapers Ltd, The Economic Times