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

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

Remains of Gillentine’s home post fire (2022)

Gillentine and his wife, like many in Carbon, lost their home and most all of their possessions to the Eastland Complex Fire. The low humidity and high winds in that part of the county made air support futile in the fight. This lead to the greatest loss of land and homes of any community in this fire.

“I told my wife, ‘grab what you can and we gotta go.’ She grabbed her medication, some of her jewelry. And I grabbed one of my banjos and a fiddle and we left… It was devastating to say the least,” Gillentine explained.

Gillentine with his homemade Fiddle, One of the only possessions he saved from the fire (2023)

All eight Eastland County Fire departments as well as aid from surrounding states, the Texas A&M Forest Service and Dyess Air Force Base responded to the various areas affected. These fires broke out within hours of each other and spread resources thin, something Cisco Fire Chief Walter Fairbanks tried to tackle as soon as possible.

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

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

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

Eastland County Deputy 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 payed the ultimate price while working to evacuate residents in Carbon.

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

Hundreds from around the state showed up to the Myrtle Wilks Community Center in Cisco for a ceremony in her honor followed by a procession of first responder vehicles.

“She laid down her life while helping with evacuations for our friends in Carbon… And there was no greater love that she could have given than that,” Eastland County Sheriff Jason Weger said at the ceremony.

Gillentine shared that he was worried Carbon would not recover from the losses suffered. Despite this, throughout the past year he said folks have begun to return.

“I noticed them coming back about three months ago. I saw others moving in and rebuilding. I think we’ll make it. I think Carbon will make it,” said Gillentine.

While some have been able to clean up and begin to rebuild, Walter Williams, pastor of New Carbon Christ Center said not all have been as fortunate.

Williams explained that a man by the name of Clinton Eaton had helped others obtain and transport structures and building materials after the fire., but unforeseen costs have left him unable to help further, while his land still contains the ruins of his structures lost to the fire.

This story, one of many, shows that even a year out, the need for aid is strong in the areas affected most by the Eastland Complex Fire.