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Wildfire at Big Bend National Park Forces Closure of Trails, Campsites

By Friday afternoon, park officials said the wildfire had spread across 250 acres of the Chisos Mountains, a popular destination for hikers. 

By Travis Bubenik

A wildfire that broke out this week in a popular part of Big Bend National Park continued to burn on Friday, as park officials announced that trails and campsites in the park’s Chisos Mountains area would remain closed through the weekend.

Smoke from the fire on the “South Rim” of the Chisos Mountains was first spotted around 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, the park said in a press release, and the fire had grown to about 250 acres by Friday afternoon. The fire is burning through an area of the “South Rim” filled with brush, grass and dead trees — potential fuel that could further spread the fire.

“I would say it’s small, but it’s a concern,” said Tom VandenBerg, a park spokesperson. “The Chisos Mountains are not a very big place..and the winds that we have right now just makes it very worrisome.”

Though a “red flag” fire warning remained in effect Friday for most of West Texas, park officials said the direction of the winds in the park — blowing from the west — were actually helping to keep the fire from spreading.

Still, VandenBerg said the high winds could make fighting the fire challenging.

“Firefighters may not be able to be as active up on the line, right up on the edge of the fire...but they’ll be clearing brush and making places a little more resistant to fire along the trails, the campsites,” he said. “They’ll just remain up there, probably at least through the weekend.”

A series of flame retardant drops were initially made to slow the fire’s spread, park officials said, while ground crews reached the fire area Thursday evening. Officials said the fire slowed Thursday night and was burning south from the Chisos Mountains into open woodland and grass areas.

It’s not yet clear what caused the fire.

“We have no idea at this time,” VandenBerg said. 

“There were a couple lightning strikes up in that area about a week ago, potentially those could’ve been simmering for multiple days, it’s not out of the question,” he said. “But whether human cause had anything to do with it, we just can’t say for sure at this point.”

The South Rim area is one of the park’s most popular areas for hikers and backcountry campers. 

VandenBerg said campsites in the Chisos Mountains are usually fully booked at this time of year, but there were no immediate reports of anyone injured or threatened by the fire.

“As far as we know, everybody’s accounted for and nobody’s missing or anything like that,” he said.

All hiking trails and backcountry camping sites in the Chisos Mountains area are set to remain closed through Sunday as crews continue responding to the fire. The closure includes the following trails: Pinnacles, Laguna Meadow, Colima, Boot Canyon, Blue Creek, Juniper Canyon and the South Rim trails.

By Friday afternoon, 32 firefighters are expected to be on the scene, including an elite team of firefighters from Mexico known as “Los Diablos” who are frequently given special permission to enter the U.S. to help with wildfires.

Park officials said they would continue to provide updates on the fire through the weekend via Twitter and Facebook, and in press releases when warranted.

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