More than 800 acres of Big Bend National Park have burned in a wildfire that’s been raging through the park since April 8.
Around 1:30 p.m. last Thursday, the National Parks Service began to receive reports of smoke plumes emerging from the South Rim of the Chisos Mountains, a remote spot in the 801,163-acre national park.
The NPS immediately sent a group of firefighters on the three-to-four-hour hike to the rugged spot, with the Texas Forest Service in Alpine providing air support. By Friday, the fire had spread 15–20 acres, though the “remote nature of the fire creates challenges both for fire management and even getting accurate estimates of fire size and conditions,” the NPS notes.
As the fire spread, burning through pinyon-juniper woodlands and grass thanks to low humidity and high winds, more firefighters arrived to help. Los Diablos Fire Crew, a group of more than 30 men from Mexico, arrived Friday, and the Mount Taylor Hotshots, the firefighting team from Cibola National Forest in New Mexico, also showed up. A total of 69 firefighters are battling the flames.
“It takes a team to fight a fire,” Deputy Superintendent David Elkowitz said in a Monday afternoon NPS update. “I can’t thank this team enough for the amazing efforts of our firefighters, partners, support personnel, and community members.”
By 4 p.m. Saturday, the fire could be seen on the ridge of the Emory Peak from the Chisos Basin, and the Chisos Basin Campground and Chisos Mountains Lodge were closed. By Saturday night it had spread to about 600 acres, but the areas actively burning, according to the NPS, were isolated to Emory Peak/the Pinnacles area and the lower Boot Canyon.
The fire continued Sunday, spreading to 785 acres. While about two-thirds of the fire has stagnated, and fire fighters continue to get parts under control, the wildfire had spread to 863 acres by Monday afternoon, mostly in the Chisos Mountains’ “sky island.” According to the NPS, “Aerial reconnaissance observed that the fire has left a patchy mosaic of scorched, burned, slightly singed, and untouched areas across the South Rim to Emory Peak, and into the lower Boot Canyon drainage.”
While wildfires have shaped this region, which features flora and fauna that aren’t found anywhere else in the world, for millennium, much of the area’s high-elevation desert woodlands haven’t seen a wildfire in 70 years.
Until further notice, the Chisos Basin Campground and Chisos Mountains Lodge and the nearby trails, including Window and Lost Mine trails, will be closed while the NPS and 69 firefighters work to contain the flames. Smoke is likely to be seen from other parts of the park.
The source of the fire is unknown, but it’s suspected to have started near a popular backcountry campsite, according to the NPS.
Keep up with wildfire updates here.