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Big Bend Wildfire Mostly Contained, Some Areas Could Reopen Next Week

Aided by cooler weather, firefighters have mostly contained a wildfire that has so far burned through about 1,300 acres of the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park.

By Travis Bubenik

A wildfire burning through a popular part of Big Bend National Park for more than a week has “pretty much run its course,” a park spokesperson said Friday, as cooler weather and higher humidity helped crews mostly contain the flames.

“At this point, they’re just focusing on a few surgical spots where it remains hot and is actively burning,” spokesperson Tom VandenBerg said in an interview. “I think we’re feeling pretty good about it.”

Since it was first spotted on April 8, the South Rim Fire has burned through 1,341 acres of the park’s Chisos Mountains area, a larger number than earlier estimates that park officials said was the result of more accurate mapping, not actual growth in the fire size since Thursday. The fire was 60% contained as of Friday morning.

As about 100 firefighters keep eyes on “hot spots” through the weekend, VandenBerg said crews would also soon begin clearing downed trees and brush from the area’s popular trails and campsites. 

Big Bend National Park said in a press release Friday that it would work to reopen trails in the Chisos Mountains “as quickly as possible,” though there is no definitive timeline for the reopening.

The park’s Chisos Basin campground and lodge remain closed as a precaution, though that area was not directly impacted by the fire. Still, VandenBerg said the Chisos Basin could reopen relatively soon.

“The earliest would be the middle of next week, Wednesday or Thursday, if everything goes well,” he said.

The popular Window and Lost Mine trails - which the wildfire did not reach - could reopen by the end of next week, VandenBerg said.

Park officials are expecting a field report early next week detailing just how much the fire damaged campsites and trails in the Chisos.

There’s still no clear word on what caused the fire, though VandenBerg previously told Marfa Public Radio the fire broke out near a campsite, which he called “a little suspicious.” But natural causes remain a possibility as well.

Though crews are still assessing the damage from the South Rim Fire, officials have suggested that the flames could actually be beneficial to the vegetation health of the area over the long term. Wildfires are not uncommon in western mountain areas like the Chisos, though the area hasn’t seen much if any fire activity since the human-caused Blue Creek Fire of 1989, which burned 334 acres.

“In the long run, it’s something that this ecology has been shaped by for thousands of years and will continue to,” VandenBerg said.

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