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State of emergency declared in Texas as wildfires rage

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has issued an emergency order in 11 counties as rapidly growing large wildfires have burned more than 60,000 acres statewide and forced evacuations in some places.

Approximately 500 people have been evacuated and 50 homes destroyed in central Texas after the massive Eastland Complex fire began spreading late last week due to persistent high winds and drought. The complex is just off Interstate 20 between Fort Worth and Abilene.

Multiple wildfires have been combined for management purposes into the Eastland Complex. This includes the Walling, Wheat Field, Kidd and Oakmont fires, according to Inciweb. The Walling Fire started Wednesday, while the others sparked Thursday. Texas A&M Forest Service resources and the Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System strike teams are being used to fight the fires, which are actively burning in thick brush and grass fields. Crews were initially focused on operations related to life safety and structure protection and containment line creation where possible.

As of late Sunday morning, the latest Inciweb update, the Eastland Complex fire was up to 54,015 acres and was 30% contained. The fire is being blamed for the death of a deputy sheriff who was helping evacuate residents. Deputy Sgt. Barbara Fenley, 51, was evacuating homes in Carbon, the Eastland County Sheriff’s Office said. Due to poor visibility from thick smoke and deteriorating conditions, she steered her vehicle off the road and into the wildfire.

As of Monday morning, the Texas Department of Transportation showed no major road closures in the Eastland Complex area. However, this may change as crews work to gain more control over the fire.

Rain is forecast for about the eastern half of Texas later Monday, but it may not necessarily be enough to extinguish the fires. Thunderstorms are likely as well, so lightning could spark new fires, and high winds prior to and during the storms could make it difficult for crews to make progress containing the fires. The National Weather Service still has a red flag warning posted in central and western Texas where conditions will remain windy and much drier.

Other notable weather this week

Look for a possible severe weather outbreak Monday through Wednesday from the southern Plains to the Southeast. Strong tornadoes may develop, along with destructive straight-line winds, large hail and localized flooding. The potential risk zone includes Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, Texas; all of Louisiana; southern Arkansas; most of Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle; as well as Atlanta and Macon, Georgia.

Major lanes of concern

• Interstate 10 from Houston to Tallahassee, Florida.
• Interstate 20 from Dallas-Fort Worth to Atlanta.
• Interstate 55 from New Orleans to Memphis, Tennessee.
• Interstate 59 from New Orleans to Birmingham, Alabama.
• Interstate 65 from Mobile to Huntsville, Alabama.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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