Deputy Sgt. Barbara Fenley died while helping people evacuate
The disaster declaration (pdf) means the countries affected can use all state government resources to respond to the wildfires and suspend any rules or statutes that would impede the state’s emergency response.
The 11 affected counties are Brooks, Brown, Coleman, Comanche, Eastland, Grayson, Mason, Potter, Randall, Reynolds, and Williamson.
Abbott said at a press conference on Friday that at least 50 homes have been burned down, reported the Texas Tribune.
The Texas A&M Forest Service reported that firefighters on Thursday were responding to 10 wildfires that burned through 52,708 acres of land in the state. By Friday afternoon, the figure grew to more than 58,000 acres.
The forest service announced on Twitter that Eastland Complex blaze, which comprises four fires in central Texas, has burned through more than 45,380 acres by late Friday afternoon. By Friday night, the blaze was 15 percent contained.
“Crews focused on structure protection and building containment line with dozers today. Aircraft dropped water/retardant to help slow fire spread and protect structures,” the service added.
Abbott said in a statement that the Texas government is working with local officials to respond to the fire conditions. “I commend the hard work and selfless acts of thousands of first responders and firefighters who are risking their own lives to protect our communities,” he said.
“I also ask Texans to join me in praying for those who have been affected by these wildfires, including Eastland County Deputy Barbara Fenley who was tragically killed while trying to save lives. We will never forget her sacrifice, and the state will continue to work closely with first responders and local leaders to mitigate these fires and support our communities as they recover,” he added.
The Eastland County Sheriff’s Office said that Deputy Sgt. Barbara Fenley, 51, died on Thursday while trying to save others from the wildfires, according to local reports.
“While evacuating people and going door-to-door, Fenley was last heard that she was going to check on an elderly individual,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement. “With the extreme deteriorating conditions and low visibility from smoke, Sgt. Fenley ran off the roadway and was engulfed in the fire.”
“Sgt. Fenley gave her life in the service of others and loved her community.”
Abbott has ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff in Eastland County in honor of Fenley.
The governor has also waived vehicle size, weight, and permitting requirements to ensure farmers and ranchers can transport hay and feed to their livestock, and other supplies can get to those who need it most, according to a press release from his office.
The National Weather Service said that dry conditions this weekend mean an increased risk of fire west of Interstate 35, with the driest air across the western-most counties.
“Texans are encouraged to remain weather-aware and practice wildfire safety, particularly in areas where burn bans are active, to keep their communities safe,” Abbott’s office said.