A year later: North Texas residents reflect on complex fires in Eastland, anticipating future fire seasons
On March 17, 2022, fires flared up one after the other in Eastland County as a cold front created strong winds, dry air and high temperatures that made the worst-case scenario come true.
“We predicted the event on May 17th. This is what we expected as a wildfire outbreak,” said Brad Smith, head of predictive services at the Texas A&M Forest Service.
Smith said the fire season began to escalate in late January due to a lack of rain and extremely dry conditions.
On the morning of March 17, the Forest Service issued a warning of “extremely critical conditions.”
When a fire broke out near Carbon, Smith was one of the first to land.
“The first thing I noticed was the name of the community on the sign “Carbon”, and it was all blackened from the fire, burned, covered with scars. And it just amazed me. And then, when I was driving into the city, these were the consequences. The houses were still on fire. The fire department here did everything possible to protect the houses that did not burn down,” he said.
Fire department coordinator Stephen Moore was also there as the incident commander.
“On the way down, I was told that I would take command of all four fires in the complex. By the end of my four days, there were a total of seven different fires, for a total of 54,514,” Moore said.
According to the Forest Service, firefighting efforts were hampered by the high spread rate and the exceptional amount of dry grass in both Eastland and Brown counties.
“It’s very hard to get into a fire or a complex fire of this magnitude where you’re taking on multiple fires and a lot of resources trying to deal with that initial chaos,” he said. “I remember immediately requesting additional resources for the next day and starting planning for the next 24 and 48 hours.”
The largest of the seven fires in the Eastland complex, the Kidd Fire engulfed over 42,000 acres, destroying homes, crops, and livestock in Carbone.
As a result, Deputy Sergeant of Eastland County Sheriff Barbara Fenley, who lost control of her car and fell into a field engulfed in flames, died.
The department said she was working to evacuate people and was on her way to visit an elderly woman.
In the end, a group of about 300 people from several departments had no choice but to look ahead, focusing their attention on nearby Gorman.
There they worked quickly to get people out of the way of the fire.
“To characterize it as a whole, it’s very eerie to be in these communities in the middle of the night that are about to be affected when there are no civilians there, sirens are on, firefighters and law enforcement are working hard to try and reduce the impact. and rescue what they can,” Moore said.
The successful evacuation was a victory in the midst of devastation.
A year later, evidence of what happened here is still scattered throughout the community.
Charred trees and burnt buildings kept the fires of the Eastland complex alive for those who were there.
But the Forest Service is looking ahead, drawing on the lessons learned here to better predict and manage future fire seasons.
“We always think we can control Mother Nature, in some ways we can put out fires. But when you see a fire of this magnitude, it burns all over the city. It’s a force of nature,” Smith said.
This season, according to Smith, conditions are less favorable for fast-spreading fires.
However, Eastland County has burned before, back in 2006, and he said the vegetation and climate pose a risk of a repeat.
But the Eastland complex, which burned so fiercely that the flames reached 80 feet in height, taught those who fight fires to always stay one step ahead.
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the large air tankers used to fight the Texas wildfires.
“You learned that at some point you had to take a defensive position. At this time, you have no influence on putting out the fire,” Smith said.
Last year, despite dozens of homes being destroyed, countless others were saved in the three weeks of the event.
Smith says he may do the same in the future.
“I have been working here for a long time and look at our young firefighters. I’m looking at the young forecasters in my department and I want to find a way to communicate to them the impact of what we’re forecasting and what we’re doing. try to understand why it is so important to let people know when events like this are around the corner and coming, because it affects people,” he said.
The fires at the Eastland complex were put out on April 8, 2022.
They were part of a wildfire outbreak that saw more than 25 fires spread across more than 100,000 acres and involved fire brigades from across Texas and several other states.
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