Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday issued a disaster declaration for 11 counties threatened by a massive wildfire that has burned dozens of homes and left a sheriff’s deputy dead.
Several blazes burning about 100 miles west of Fort Worth since Thursday grew and combined into a 70-square mile behemoth now called the Eastland Complex Fire, said the Texas A&M Forest Service.
At least 50 homes have been destroyed and nearly 500 others evacuated in the surrounding communities, as flames fueled by wind, have eaten through thousands of acres of extremely dry grass.
The inferno is now so large, its smoke cast a haze over the city of Houston, 200 miles away, on Friday.
Video of what looked like a fire tornado was shared by the Texas A&M Forest Service, which is battling the inferno. Efforts to extinguish the flames have been made worse by what the agency called “extreme fire behavior.”
Eastland County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Deputy Barbara Fenley, who had been with the department since 2013, died in the blaze Thursday while moving residents out of harm’s way.
“While evacuating people and going door-to-door, Fenley was last heard from that she was going to check on an elderly individual,” said a statement from the sheriff’s office. “With the extreme deteriorating conditions and low visibility from smoke, Sgt. Fenley ran off the roadway and was engulfed in the fire.”
The 51-year-old leaves behind a husband and three children, according to the sheriff’s office.
Smoke from the Eastland Complex Fire drifted about 200 miles southeast to Houston, blanketing the nation’s fourth-largest city in a smelly haze. This prompted the city officials to advise residents that there was no immediate danger, but to limit outdoor activity.
The possibility of more scorched earth and evacuations will remain in the coming days. Shelters for Texans who had been evacuated are open in the affected communities.