Firefighters in Texas have finally gotten the upper hand on devastating wildfires that began last week. But fires continue to blaze across areas of the state and may escalate due to dry weather, as people in some of the hardest-hit areas begin to assess the damage.
As of Monday, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service, more than 178 fires of varying sizes had burned more than 108,000 acres in Texas and destroyed more than 150 homes and buildings. The fires were supercharged by dry winds, low humidity, and stretches of drought-stricken land that sparked easily and helped flames spread. As of last week, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, more than 90% of Texas was in some form of drought, with 40% of the state in extreme or exceptional drought, the highest levels. Governor Greg Abbott on Friday declared states of emergency in 11 counties in Texas where fires were raging. Twenty-three fires were active in the state on Sunday, a Forest Service spokesperson told CNN.
The largest of these fires, the Eastland Complex Fire blazing outside of Fort Worth, is comprised of seven smaller fires that started from Thursday to Sunday; together, these fires had burned through more than 54,000 acres as of Monday afternoon and were 60% contained. The Texas A&M Forest Service reports that this fire likely won’t be contained before the end of the week. Dry, windy, and warm conditions forecast for the area from Wednesday through the weekend could help it spread again.
On Thursday, a deputy sergeant in Eastland County was killed as she was traveled door-to-door helping people evacuate from the Eastland Complex Fire. The Eastland County Sheriff’s Office said that the last message they received from Sgt. Barbara Fenley, a 51-year-old grandmother, was as she was going to check on an elderly resident, but her car ran off the road due to low visibility from the smoke and was engulfed in flames.
People living in Lipan, a town outside of Fort Worth with a population of 430, were forced to evacuate as a separate fire, dubbed the Big L fire, grew to 3,000 acres Sunday. The evacuation orders were lifted Monday morning after firefighters had gotten it under control. The fire has burned 11,000 acres and injured four firefighters.
Several small towns in the region were particularly devastated by the Eastland Complex Fire. At least 50 homes were destroyed in Carbon, a small town with a population of just 272. Residents standing in the rubble of their homes told local news outlets that they would be forced to start from scratch.
“Some stuff I’ll never get back,” Carbon resident Terry Alsabrook told WFAA. “All I had were my mom’s pictures. I don’t have none of that no more,”
Eastland County Judge Rex Fields told reporters during a Friday news conference that a stretch of land around Carbon looked “like some kind of lunar landscape…It’s just an amazing amount of devastation.”
While fire conditions may continue in these regions, people living elsewhere in the state are bracing for different bad weather. A storm moving through Southeast Texas has brought multiple tornado sightings across the state and put Houston under a flood watch Tuesday morning.