Texas Governor Greg Abbott has issued an emergency order in 11 counties in the state as wildfires have prompted evacuations.
Wildfires strengthened by drought conditions have burned through thousands of acres of land in central Texas, with fire crews yesterday struggling to contain the blazes as they destroyed homes and other buildings.
Fires were only 4% contained as of Friday afternoon, 18 March, with a spokesperson for Texas A&M Forest Service saying officials were yet to confirm how many structures may have burned.
Abbott issued the disaster declaration in response to the wildfire activity, with a letter sent to Secretary of State John B. Scott stating the fires began on 23 February and 'pose an imminent threat of widespread or severe damage, injury, or loss of life or property in Brooks, Brown, Coleman, Comanche, Eastland, Grayson, Mason, Potter, Randall, Reynolds, and Williamson counties.'
In the declaration, Abbott authorised the use of 'all available resources of state government and of political subdivisions that are reasonably necessary to cope with this disaster', as well as the suspension of 'any regulatory statute prescribing the procedures for conduct of state business or any order or rule of a state agency that would in any way prevent, hinder or delay necessary action in coping with this disaster'.
The only casualty so far reported in the blazes is that of sheriff’s deputy, Barbara Fenley, who is said to have been trying to save people from the fires, according to officials in Eastland County. It is unclear how or when Fenley died, but Abbott ordered flags in Eastland County to be lowered to half-mast in honour of Fenley.
In a statement, he said: "The State of Texas is working alongside local officials to respond to these critical fire conditions throughout several Texas counties. I commend the hard work and selfless acts of thousands of first responders and fire fighters who are risking their own lives to protect our communities.
Today, I issued a disaster declaration for 11 counties impacted by the wildfires in Texas.— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) March 19, 2022
We will continue to work w/ local officials to respond.
Join me in praying for those affected, including Eastland Co. Deputy Barbara Fenley who was tragically killed while saving lives. pic.twitter.com/ARbkWfv9fa
"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."
Shelters have been opened at a number of locations for those affected by the fires, with a list available on the Texas government website.
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