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1,500 Acres Burned as Big Bend Wildfire Continues

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A wildfire continues to burn east of Panther Junction in Big Bend National Park. The fire has burned nearly 2,000 acres so far. (Big Bend National Park)

A grassland wildfire that began in Big Bend National Park Monday afternoon has burned 1,500 acres this week, the park said Thursday morning.

Earlier this week the park had estimated the fire at nearly 2,000 acres, but that number was dropped after "more accurate mapping," the park said.

"Areas to the south/southeast are actively burning, but roadways and trails remain open," the park said. "The road to Rio Grande Village may intermittently close if smoke or fire approach the roadway."

The park plans to use a helicopter to drop water over the fire Thursday, and additional resources are expected.

The fire was sparked from a downed power line on Monday around 5 P.M. near Panther Junction, the park's headquarters.

Heavy winds howled across West Texas earlier this week, helping the fire spread quickly. It had initially stopped spreading by Tuesday morning, but the winds picked up again that afternoon and started moving the fire into more rugged, hard-to-reach terrain.

The park said the fire hasn't yet posed a threat to people or structures, or led to any injuries. It's continued burning grass and desert shrubs in remote terrain east of Panther Junction, smoldering in some areas and burning with open flames in others.

The fire was flaring up on its southern and eastern flanks this week. On Wednesday, the fire grew closer to the road between Panther Junction and the Rio Grande Village campground, forcing a brief closure of that road. Still, the park said the fire remained south of that road and hasn't jumped it to the north since Monday.

The park as a whole remain opens, except for two backcountry campsites near the fire - Nugent Mountain and Chilicotal. Visitors are being asked to not stop in the burn areas or approach the fire.

The fire has been smoldering in some areas and openly burning in others. Crews are working to maintain "firebreaks" to stop the flames from spreading further.

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35-40 firefighters were on hand this week, along with 14 people from the esteemed "Los Diablos" firefighting team from just across the border in Mexico. Los Diablos are renowned across the country for their elite firefighting skills, enough so that they're allowed special and fast legal entry into the U.S. when their help is needed. Los Diablos have been fighting the fire's permitter.

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In a comment on its Facebook page, Big Bend National Park said it's still not clear what kind of effect the fire's had on the vegetation it's burned.

“While it is true that wildfires can be beneficial to grassland ecosystem health, this area is also home to non-native invasive grasses that can spread uncontrolled very quickly during fires," the park said.

"Resource managers will continue to monitor this area after fire recovery, when we can better understand how natives compete with non-natives after such an event.”

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