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Texas authorities warn of more dangerous fire weather to come as a wildfire victim’s family reflects on her life of service

By Paradise Afshar and Christina Maxouris, CNN

As authorities in central Texas battle several wildfires and warn of more dangerous conditions Sunday, the family of a sheriff’s deputy killed in the flames say the reality of her death hasn’t fully sunk in.

“You’re thinking it’s going to be like every other night,” Jonathon Fenley, 28, told CNN. “We were just out looking for her when we got that phone call.”

He spoke to his mother, Deputy Sgt. Barbara Fenley, Thursday night as she helped evacuate people in the town of Carbon, about 100 miles west of Fort Worth. She was last heard from while on her way to assist an elderly person, the Eastland County Sheriff’s Office said.

Amid deteriorating conditions and low visibility from smoke, Fenley ran off the roadway and was killed in the flames, the sheriff’s office said.

Gov. Greg Abbott, who on Friday issued a disaster declaration for 11 counties, including Eastland, ordered flags at half-staff in Fenley’s honor. “We will never forget her sacrifice,” the governor said.

Fenley loved her job, she loved her family and was always helping others — even when that meant putting other people’s needs above her own, her son said. “If someone else was having a bad day, she always tried to cheer them up, even if she was having a worse day,” he said.

The Eastland Complex, a combination of four blazes that began Wednesday and Thursday, had scorched through 54,015 acres as of Saturday night, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. The complex was roughly 30% contained, the service said.

At least 50 homes have been lost in the flames, authorities said.

Authorities warned Sunday will be “another dangerous fire weather day,” with a fire weather watch set to begin Sunday morning and continue through the evening hours, according to a Saturday update on the national Inciweb wildfire information system.

“Relative humidity values will drop to the low to mid teens once again, but much warmer and windier conditions are expected to develop compared to today,” the update said. “Rapid fire spread will once again be possible Sunday afternoon/evening.”

Eastland County Judge Rex Fields described the area between Carbon and Gorman as looking “like some kind of lunar landscape,” with no vegetation, during a Friday news conference. “It’s just an amazing amount of devastation,” the judge added.

The Red Cross said Saturday it was responding to the fire in Eastland County with resources for those in need.

In the small town of Ranger, about 10 miles northeast of Eastland, a church and several downtown buildings burned Thursday, CNN affiliate KTVT reported.

“I’ve been fire chief here 40 years and when you have something like this … it hurts. It hurts the whole community,” Ranger Fire Department Chief Darrell Fox said. “This church had been here for 100 years.”

The massive complex is not the only blaze that’s been scorching parts of Texas. The forest service said it worked on 13 wildfires across more than 71,000 acres on Friday.

The Crews Gap Fire, in Runnels County, was also still burning Saturday and was 80% contained by noon, the forest service said.

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CNN’s David Williams contributed to this report.

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