March 19 (Reuters) – Wildfires wiped out 86 homes and a majority of the small town of Carbon, Texas, the Dallas Morning News reported on Saturday, as four fires west of Dallas burned 54,000 acres (22,000 hectares) and killed a sheriff’s deputy who was helping people flee.
The four fires, designated as the Eastland Complex, have raged since Wednesday or Thursday in Eastland County, about 120 miles (190 km) west of Dallas, and were about 30% contained, the Texas A&M Fire Service said on Saturday.
About 85% of Carbon, with a population of 225, was burned, the newspaper reported, publishing photos of homes that were reduced to piles of rubble.
An Eastland Fire Department dispatcher could not confirm the damage toll, referring questions to the Texas Division of Emergency Management, where officials were unavailable.
Driven by strong winds and feasting on dry brush, the fires consumed most of Carbon within three hours, the Morning News said, based on a reporter’s dispatch from the town.
“Everywhere you turn, it looks like a bomb went off. I’ve seen this place up in smoke before, but never quite like this,” said Wendy Forbus, a business owner and pastor, the Morning News reported.
Governor Greg Abbott on Friday declared a disaster in 11 Texas counties and ordered flags to be lowered to half staff in Eastland County in honor of the sheriff’s deputy Barbara Fenley, his office announced.
Fenley had driven on Thursday to check on an elderly person as part of her official duties, Eastland County Sheriff Jason Weger told KTAB/KRBC television.
“With the extreme deteriorating conditions and low visibility from smoke, Sergeant Fenley ran off the roadway and was engulfed in the fire,” Weger said.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)