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Residents share memories of the Eastland complex fire a year later

EASTLAND COUNTY, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – A year ago, six separate fires in Eastland County claimed more than 50,000 acres of land and one life. Although the destruction was extensive, affected communities have begun to rebuild, but not without the pains of the past still waiting to heal.

“It was huge. He was coming straight at us. All you could see was smoke and flames and. We barely got out,” recalls Carbon resident Leo Gillentine.

Remains of the Gillentine House Fire (2022)

Gillentine and his wife, like many in Carbon, lost their home and most of their belongings in the Eastland complex fire. Low humidity and high winds in this part of the county made air support futile in combat. This led to the greatest loss of land and homes of any community in this fire.

“I said to my wife, ‘take what you can and we have to go.’ She grabbed her medicine, some of her jewelry. And I grabbed one of my banjos and a fiddle and we were off… It was devastating to say the least,” Gillentine explained.

Residents share memories of the Eastland complex fire a year later
Gillentine with his homemade violin, one of the only possessions he saved from the fire (2023)

All eight Eastland County Fire Departments along with help from surrounding states, the Texas A&M Forest Service and Dyess Air Force Base responded to the various affected areas. These fires broke out within hours of each other and scattered resources, which Cisco Fire Chief Walter Fairbanks attempted to resolve as soon as possible.

“We met with the incident commander and you were working on a game plan, then another breaks out, then another breaks out, then another breaks out. So that game plan that you originally had goes away,” Fairbanks recalled.

Fairbanks added that in some areas the flames towered over them by 30 feet. He shared that in these situations, any hope of putting out the fire is slim.

“The fires were nearly impossible to fight, so getting people out of the line of fire was probably the highest priority,” Fairbanks said.

Residents share memories of the Eastland complex fire a year later
Eastland County Assistant Sergeant Barbara Fenley

While many lost their homes, only one life was claimed, though it was still one life too many. Eastland County Deputy Sergeant Barbara Majors Fenley paid the ultimate price working to evacuate the residents of Carbon.

“She would do anything for anyone… It’s heartbreaking because she was trying to help everyone,” Gillentine said.

Hundreds of people from across the state showed up at Cisco’s Myrtle Wilks Community Center for a ceremony in her honor, followed by a procession of first aid vehicles.

“She gave her life helping with the evacuations of our friends from Carbon…And she couldn’t have given more love than that,” Eastland County Sheriff Jason Weger said during the interview. ceremony.

Gillentine shared that he fears Carbon will not recover from the losses suffered. Despite this, throughout the past year he said people have started to return.

“I noticed them coming back about three months ago. I’ve seen others move in and rebuild. I think we will get there. I think Carbon will get there,” Gillentine said.

While some were able to clean up and begin to rebuild, Walter Williams, pastor of the New Carbon Christ Center, said not all were so lucky.

Williams said a man named Clinton Eaton helped others obtain and transport structures and building materials after the fire, but unforeseen costs prevented him from helping more, so that its land still contains the ruins of its structures lost to fire.

This story, one of many, shows that even a year later, the need for help is strong in the areas most affected by the Eastland complex fire.


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