Texas authorities warn of more dangerous fires to come as family of wildfire victim reflects on life on duty
By Paradise Afshar and Christina Maxouris, CNN
As Central Texas authorities battle multiple wildfires and warn of more dangerous conditions on Sunday, the family of a sheriff’s deputy killed in the flames say that the reality of his death has not completely sunk.
“You think it’s going to be like every other night,” Jonathon Fenley, 28, told CNN. “We were just looking for him when we got that phone call.”
He spoke to his mother, Deputy Sergeant. Barbara Fenley Thursday night while helping evacuate people in the town of Carbon, about 100 miles west of Fort Worth. She was last heard from on her way to help an elderly person, the Eastland County Sheriff‘s Office said.
Amid deteriorating conditions and low visibility due to smoke, Fenley drove off the roadway and was killed in the flames, the sheriff’s office said.
Gov. Greg Abbott, who issued a disaster declaration for 11 counties, including Eastland, on Friday, flags flown at half mast in honor of Fenley. “We will never forget his sacrifice,” the governor said.
Fenley loved her job, she loved her family and always helped others — even when it meant putting the needs of others before her own, her son said. “If someone else was having a bad day, she would always try to cheer them up, even if they were having a worse day,” he said.
The Eastland complex, a combination of four fires that started Wednesday and Thursday, had burned 54,015 acres by Saturday night, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. The complex was about 30% confined, the service said.
At least 50 homes were lost in the flames, authorities said.
Authorities have warned that Sunday will be “another day of dangerous fire weather”, with a fire weather watch set to begin Sunday morning and continue into the evening, according to a saturday update on the national information system on forest fires Inciweb.
“Relative humidity values will fall again between the teen years, but much warmer and windier conditions are expected to develop compared to today,” the update said. “Rapid spread of fire will be possible again on Sunday afternoon/evening.”
Eastland County Judge Rex Fields described the area between Carbon and Gorman as looking like “some kind of moonscape,” with no vegetation, during a news conference Friday. “It’s just an incredible amount of devastation,” Judge added.
The Red Cross said saturday he was responding to the Eastland County Fire with resources for those in need.
In the small town of Ranger, about 10 miles northeast of Eastland, a church and several downtown buildings burned Thursday, CNN affiliate KTVT reported.
“I’ve been a fire chief here for 40 years and when you have something like that…it hurts. It hurts the whole community,” Rangers Fire Department Chief Darrell Fox said. “This church was there for 100 years.”
The massive complex isn’t the only fire that has scorched parts of Texas. The forest service noted he worked on 13 wildfires on more than 71,000 acres on Friday.
The Crews Gap Fire in Runnels County was still burning Saturday and was 80% contained by noon, the forest service said.
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CNN’s David Williams contributed to this report.
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