Gov. Greg Abbott declares disaster as wildfires rage in several Texas counties

Gov. Greg Abbott in Weslaco in January. On Thursday, wildfires prompted the governor to issue a disaster declaration for several Texas counties. (Michael Gonzalez For The Texas Tribune, Michael Gonzalez For The Texas Tribune)

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Strong winds have fueled a rapid spread of wildfires across the state, pushing Gov. Greg Abbott to issue a disaster declaration for 11 counties in multiple regions.

The disaster declaration allows the counties — Brooks, Brown, Coleman, Comanche, Eastland, Grayson, Mason, Potter, Randall, Reynolds and Williamson — to use all available state resources to respond to the fires.

The wildfires had burned more than 58,000 acres across the state by Friday afternoon, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. At least one person, an Eastland County sheriff’s deputy, was killed trying to rescue others, and at least 50 homes have burned, Abbott said at a press conference Friday. Hundreds of Texas families have also evacuated their homes.

Western and Central Texas remain under an elevated fire risk due to high winds, low humidity and drought conditions, according to the National Weather Service.

Climate change has made Texas heat both hotter and longer lasting. The average daily minimum and maximum temperatures in Texas have both increased by 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 125 years, with nearly half the increase since 2000, according to a 2021 report by the state climatologist. The state just saw its hottest December on record since 1889.

Average temperature rise tends to enhance droughts, and the Texas Water Development Board reported this week that exceptional drought conditions have returned to the state for the first time since June.

As of Tuesday, several counties in the state were experiencing severe to exceptional drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Erin Douglas contributed to this report.