Texas wildfires consume much of small town, takes deputy’s life: ‘If you can picture hell on earth…’

All it took was a ferocious gust of wind and a downed powerline.

Days later, 86 homes have been destroyed in the small Texas town of Carbon, about 120 miles west of Dallas. That would be an appalling number in any town or city, but in the small, sleepy town of Carbon, with a population of only 225, that number is apocalyptic.

About 85% of the town was consumed by the raging conflagration, which is believed to have ignited on Wednesday or Thursday of last week.

“If you can picture hell on earth, that’s what Carbon looked like,” paramedic Chris Gibson told The Dallas Morning News. He’s from Erath County, about 40 miles east of Carbon, and rushed over on Thursday night to help as best he could.  “It happened so fast, it didn’t even matter we were there. The city was left to fend for itself.”

(Video: NBC News)

Four raging wildfires, dubbed the Eastland Complex (Carbon is located in Eastland County, Texas,) are responsible for the devastation. The fires have been fueled by powerful winds and dry brush, a terrible situation that is only aggravated by the lack of humidity in the area. In the space of only about three hours, the flames reduced much of Carbon to ashes.

On Friday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for eleven counties and ordered that flags in Eastland County be lowered to half staff to honor sheriff’s deputy Barbara Fenley. The Eastland County Sheriff’s Office reported that Deputy Fenley died on Thursday while performing a door-to-door search to spread the word of the evacuation. In her last communication, she reported that she was heading into Carbon to check on an elderly resident.

“With the extreme deteriorating conditions and low visibility from smoke,” Eastland County Sheriff Jason Weger reported, “Sgt. Fenley ran off the roadway and was engulfed in the fire.” As of Sunday, Sgt. Fenley is the only known fatality. She is survived by her husband and three sons.

“She didn’t care who you were or what you did,” her son Jon explained in an interview with NBC 5. “She was always going to be there. Doesn’t matter if you were 5 years old or 85 years old, she was going to take care of you.”

The people of Eastland County aren’t out of the woods yet. The National Weather Service in Fort Worth has warned that Central and Western Texas are still under a fire threat due to the dry and windy conditions prevailing across much of the state.

For now, the people of Carbon are just trying to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives and attain some semblance of normality. “It’s like a nightmare here,” Wendy Forbus, a local pastor and business owner, told the Dallas Morning News. “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.”


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Todd Jaquith


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