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As Crews Battle Texas Wildfires, Officials Brace for More


Parts of western and central Texas remained under an elevated fire threat on Saturday, as crews worked to contain a wildfire that has killed one deputy officer, destroyed what was said to be dozens of homes and threatened hundreds of others.

The Eastland Complex fire, consisting of four separate fires in an area west of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, had burned more than 45,000 acres and was 15 percent contained by Saturday morning, the Texas A&M Fire Service reported on Twitter.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas surveyed the damage in Eastland County on Friday. Estimates of the number of homes destroyed ranged from more than 50 to nearly 90, according to local officials who were assessing damage in the area on Saturday. The Eastland Complex fire was one of many wildfires that broke out in Texas beginning on Thursday and led to the evacuations of nearly 500 homes.

Overall, the Texas A&M Forest Service said on Friday, it has responded to 10 wildfires across the state that had burned more than 52,000 acres. Firefighting crews were protecting structures and building fire-containment lines, and planes dropped water and fire-retardant chemicals in the area, it said. Mr. Abbott ordered disaster declarations in 11 counties as the wildfire threat widened.

Firefighters, emergency personnel and volunteers have rushed to help local crews. Volunteers from nearly 58 fire departments were on hand to supplement state and local units, said Seth Christensen, chief of media and communication for the Texas Division of Emergency Management. At least 14 state agencies have deployed crews and equipment.

One of the first responders, Barbara Fenley, a deputy with the Eastland County Sheriff’s Office, died on Friday while trying to save victims from the fires, the authorities said.

Joe Williamson, chief of the Eastland Fire Department, said on Saturday that the Eastland Complex fire had “calmed down over night” because of reduced winds and improved humidity. But he said fire crews were bracing for Sunday because “we could go back into a little more of the red flag danger.” Red flag warnings are issued by the National Weather Service when warm temperatures, very low humidities and stronger winds combine to raise the risk of fire danger.

In such conditions, sparks or embers can blow into leaves or grass and ignite a fire that quickly spreads, the weather service said. Texas officials warned residents of those conditions and urged people to be careful.

“We have wildfires moving out into West Texas and further down into South Texas,” Mr. Christensen said. “The weather is perfect for wildfires right now.” He added that residents should be mindful when they’re outdoors to take precautions when engaging in activities that could cause sparks, such as dragging chains behind a car or simply driving in tall grass.

The National Weather Service said there was an elevated fire weather threat along U.S.-281 west of the Dallas-Fort Worth area and that critical fire conditions were possible on Sunday in an area that stretched from Val Verde County, near the Mexican border, to the Hill Country in the central and southern portions of the state.

Vimal Patel and Mike Ives contributed reporting.



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