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Deadly fires scorch West Texas communities but rain may be on the way

Emergency response crews continued to fight at least four wildfires in or near Eastland County, between Abilene and Fort Worth, on Sunday.

The blazes, known collectively as the Eastland Complex fires, have killed at least one person, destroyed more than 140 structures and burned around 50,000 acres of dry and windy West Texas landscape.

The high winds have kept firefighting aircraft grounded at times, hampering their attempts to support the ground crews. But another form of help from above may be on the way: rain.

Angel Lopez-Portillo with the Texas A&M Forest Service says there's a chance of rain Sunday night and into Monday.

"That's exactly what we're hoping for," he said. "As the weather is changing in our favor, it will help us out tremendously."

The blaze began on Thursday after a number of smaller fires merged together. Four major incidents comprised the Eastland Complex: the Kidd Fire (spread out over 42,000 acres), the Wheat Field Fire (7,200 acres), the Walling Fire (380 acres) and the Oak Mott Fire (4,000 acres).

By Sunday afternoon, a map with the Texas Wildfire Incident Response System indicated the Walling Fire was completely contained. The map also indicated the Kidd Fire was 25% contained; the Wheat Field fire was 40% contained; and the Oak Mott fire was 60% contained.

Also on Sunday afternoon, the Forest Service's Incident Information service tweeted that crews were responding to another emergency nearby, named the Blowing Basin Fire, which measured 100 acres and was 5% contained.

On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for Brooks, Brown, Coleman, Comanche, Eastland, Grayson, Mason, Potter, Randall, Reynolds and Williamson counties, an action which marshals all available state resources to respond to the emergency.

One person has died because of the Eastland Complex fires. On Thursday, Eastland County Deputy Sgt. Barbara Fenley, 51, was killed as she attempted to evacuate residents from Carbon, Texas.

"While evacuating people and going door to door," a statement explained, "Deputy Sgt. Barbara Fenley was last heard that she was going to check on an elderly individual. With the extreme deteriorating conditions and low visibility from smoke, Sgt. Fenley ran off the roadway and was engulfed in the fire."

Henley had served as a law enforcement officer since 2003, became Gorman's chief of police in 2007, and then joined the Eastland County Sheriff's Office in 2013. She was married and had three children.

The effects of the fires have not been contained to West Texas. High winds have carried the smoke from the fires as far away as Houston. On Friday, the city's fire department and Office of Emergency Management warned residents that air quality was unhealthy.

Houston Public Media contributed to this report.

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Jerry Clayton can be reached at jerry@tpr.org or on Twitter at @jerryclayton.