News Details

Texas wildfire destroys 50 homes killed a deputy and scorches 45,000 acres

20 Mar 2022

James Hartley

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
West Texas families are going back to their homes in Carbon, after having evacuated because of the Eastland Complex wildfire, to find rubble and ash where their houses used to be.Debbie Copeland, one resident, took to Facebook live around 6 a.m. Friday to show the world the damage the fire has done.
“We just came out to look at what’s left and there’s nothing left,” Copeland said through tears in the video.
As she pans the video over the ruins of her home, in which Copeland told Fort Worth Star-Telegram news partner WFAA-TV she had lived for 20 years, viewers can see ash, rubble, burnt rock and stone and brick. Embers and small fires still burn and glow around and inside the remains of the house.
She shows the melted, warped form of what used to be an ATV her family used to show land to people. She pans over the pier and beam foundation to show a piece of the house that used to be a room for the kids. She becomes more emotional when she sees her bicycle, reduced to charred metal. Another woman in the video assures her they can replace it.
“Our fabulous porch,” Copeland says as she pans her Facebook live video over some stairs with rubble fallen down over them. “And it’s still on fire.”
Smoke wisps through the air, visible as her phone light passes over it in the pre-sunrise morning. At times you almost can’t hear her voice describing the damages because the wind, which has made predicting the path of the fire almost impossible and fighting it no easy task, is blowing so hard.
“There’s the piano,” Copeland says as she shows the ruins. But there’s no piano. There’s just ash. Everything, from a shop they had on the property to a truck to Copeland’s bicycle, was decimated by the flames. “It looks a little bit like a bomb site.”
The family has set up a GoFundMe to help them rebuild.
Copeland’s story is not unique in her town, where authorities on Friday estimated at least 50 homes destroyed. An Eastland County sheriff’s deputy sergeant, Barbara Fenley, died Thursday when she was driving to try to save an elderly resident and Fenley’s car went off the road and was consumed by the fire.
Carbon, with a population of 272 according to the 2010 census, evacuated Thursday and Friday as the fires threatened lives and property. Authorities said they haven’t found anybody dead yet, but that could change as they are able to get into affected areas and survey the area.
Fire crews hope to make progress Saturday against the massive complex of wildfires, officials told the Associated Press. Winds were expected to diminish on Saturday, raising hopes for the attack on the flames, said Angel Lopez, a spokesman for the task force attacking the wildfire complex near Eastland, about 100 miles west of Fort Worth. However, gusty winds were expected to return Sunday, again raising the wildfire threat to critical levels in western and central Texas, he told the AP.
Some people refused to evacuate when the order was given, then changed their minds when the fires got closer, Eastland County Judge Rex Field said at a news conference with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other state and local officials Friday. Those decisions, to not evacuate, put first responders in greater danger than they were already facing, Field said.
Raena St. Peter was another resident who lost her home. She told WFAA she had just remodeled her home.
“I went in the house and kind of held my hands up and thought what do I do. What do I grab? Where do I start?” St. Peter told WFAA.
She grabbed the family dog, Lucy, and took pictures of the blaze as she drove away. The family lost their 48-year-old pet parrot, which was not able to be rescued from the home.
“The last view I had in the rearview mirrors is flames. That’s when I knew how close It was to our house,” St. Peter told WFAA.
The Texas A&M Forest Service told KXAS-TV (NBC 5) that around 475 homes were evacuated in Gorman, near Carbon. There’s no estimate yet as to how many homes may have been destroyed.
The 2010 census showed Gorman with a population of 1,083.
At the news conference Friday, Field said the area between Carbon and Gorman looked like “a lunar landscape.”
Much of Eastland County and the surrounding area is livestock land, and it’s in a drought that has turned the entire area into a tinderbox. Paired with the fast, shifting winds, which in addition to pushing the fire in unpredictable paths made it impossible for firefighting aircraft to join efforts to combat the blaze until Friday. Local first responders are relying on assistance from state resources and firefighters who have shown up to assist from around the state.
Jequita Grissom found her home on Main Street in Gorman completely destroyed Friday, KXAS reported. Another massive blaze n 2006 destroyed her first home in Carbon. She and her family moved to Gorman about seven years ago.
“I’m like lost for words, really. I’m hardly ever lost for words,” Grissom told KXAS. “I guess we are going to put our trust in our Heavenly Father. Same as last time. He took care of us. He’ll take care of us again.”
Copeland said the same thing several times in her Facebook live video: She and her family have lost everything but are trusting God to protect and provide.
Abbott, who issued a disaster declaration for 11 counties, urged residents at the news conference Friday to heed any evacuation orders. Property can be replaced, he said. Lives can’t.
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