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Wildfire Breaks Out, Quickly Put Down West of Marfa

Update 3:20 pm: Presidio County Emergency Management Coordinator Gary Mitschke confirmed to KRTS that construction crews working for TxDOT "most likely" sparked yesterday afternoon's fire near Marfa.

As we've reported, sources close to the scene told KRTS yesterday that crews were working on a guard rail with grinding tools near where the fire broke out.

Mitschke says that crew actually shouldn't have been working in the area.

Presidio County enacted a burn ban last week, and under the conditions of that ban any type of construction work that could possible spark a fire - including welding and cutting - is prohibited on days with Red Flag fire conditions. Yesterday was one of those days.

Mitschke says there is typically a fine of about $500 associated with violating this rule, but he says it's most likely that the crew and/or TxDOT will only be issued a warning in this case.

"Accidents happen," Mitschke says, "We don't want to shut down people trying to make a living."

Mitschke tells KRTS he's still looking into why crews were working in the area, or how the message about the burn ban restrictions was missed. He couldn't immediately say who the responsible party is with the violation of those restrictions (the work crew or TxDOT), but he says ultimately it's still up to individuals to know the rules.

Yesterday's fire burned about 11 acres in all before it was contained just after 6 pm. About 4 crews first responded to the fire, and some were on the scene until around 8 pm.

Original Post:

A small wildfire broke out yesterday afternoon about 4 miles west of Marfa along US Highway 90.

The fire began on the north side of the highway and was reportedly being pushed east toward Marfa when crews were called to the scene around 3:50 pm. Presidio County authorities say the fire was fully contained just after 6 pm.

Authorities also said yesterday evening they weren't sure what caused the fire, but sources close to the scene told KRTS that a contract crew working for the Texas Department of Transportation might have accidentally sparked the fire while working on a guard rail with some grinding tools.

Thought it was put out quickly, the fire brought back troubling memories from 2011's Rock House Fire, the largest grassland wildfire in Texas history. That fire started at nearly the same location of yesterday's fire, and quickly spread north to Fort Davis, eventually burning a total of 314,444 acres.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.