Wildfires destroy 50 homes in Texas

Fire crews in Texas made progress Saturday in battling a massive complex of wildfires that have claimed the life of a deputy police chief and have leveled at least 50 homes, according to authorities.

“There has been progress, but fire activity has increased as temperatures have increased and humidity has decreased,” said Matt Ford, a spokesman for the Texas A&M Forest Service. He added that about 25% of the flames have been contained, better than the 4% that had been contained Friday night when the fire consumed thick brush and grassy areas.

The fires have burned about 130 square miles (330 square kilometers), including about 70 square miles (186 square kilometers) in the Eastland Complex, according to the agency. That area is about 120 miles (193 kilometers) west of Dallas.

Wind gusts are expected to return on Sunday, again raising the threat of a wildfire to critical levels in West and Central Texas, Ford said.

“We are forecasting weather severity to increase” on Sunday, Ford said.

The National Weather Service forecast for the area includes high temperatures for Sunday, with winds of 15-20 mph (24-32 km/h) and gusts up to 30 mph (48 km/h).

At least 50 homes have been destroyed by the flames and more may be found, Gov. Greg Abbott said at a news conference Friday night. He declared a disaster zone in the 11 counties most affected by the fires. The Texas A&M Forest Service has warned that the fires could also affect parts of Oklahoma and Kansas, and Nebraska has warned that there is an extreme fire risk in those states.

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The Eastland County Police Department released more details about the death of Sergeant Barbara Fenley. In a statement, the department said Fenley was going house-to-house on Thursday to persuade residents to vacate their homes and “last heard from her, she was going to see an elderly person.”

“As extreme conditions worsened and visibility was poor due to smoke, Sergeant Fenley veered off the road and was engulfed in flames,” according to the statement.

Approximately 18,000 people live in Eastland County. Some 475 homes were evacuated in the town of Gorman, Ford said.

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