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Wildfire breaks out in northern Jeff Davis County as forecasters warn of “extreme” fire risk across West Texas

The Nunn Fire continued to burn Tuesday afternoon on a ranch west of Highway 118, near the county’s northern edge.

By Travis Bubenik

Update, 2:30 p.m.

Firefighters on Tuesday continued to battle a wildfire that had spread across 600 to 650 acres of land on the High Lonesome Ranch in northern Jeff Davis County.

The Nunn Fire broke out sometime Monday morning and has been burning in a rugged, unpopulated part of the ranch west of Highway 118.

Jim Fowler, spokesperson for the Fort Davis Volunteer Fire Department, said firefighters had made progress on the fire’s perimeter and were feeling “optimistic.”

“It’s actually going very well,” he said.

Firefighters have managed to establish two “retardant lines” on the north and east sides of the fire, Fowler said, allowing them to focus on the fire’s other edges and its more actively burning areas.

“I think we’re probably a little less concerned,” he said. “There’s still a lot of firefighting to do to get this out.”

West Texas remained under a “red flag” fire warning Tuesday because of gusty winds, warm temperatures and low humidity, meaning there is still a risk of the fire spreading easily.

Fowler said planes that were helping drop fire retardant earlier in the morning have been called off due to the high winds, but that crews planned to use a helicopter to drop water on active flames in a “more precise” approach.

Officials also confirmed the cause of the fire on Tuesday: ants.

“Ants got into the electrical box on a water well,” Fowler said. “They started shorting out, causing sparks, and that’s what started the fire.”

Original Story

A wildfire that broke out Monday on a ranch in northern Jeff Davis County had grown to about 400 acres and was 20% contained as of Tuesday morning, as crews faced a forecast for gusty winds and “extreme” fire risk across West Texas.

“I think we’re really rushing with the time, to try and get ahead of the winds,” said Jim Fowler, spokesperson for the Fort Davis Volunteer Fire Department.

Firefighters were first called out to what’s been dubbed the “Nunn Fire” around noon on Monday. It’s believed the cause was electrical in nature, Fowler said, “probably power lines slapping in the winds.”

Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Midland have warned of high fire risk everywhere from the Big Bend region to the Permian Basin on Tuesday, saying there is the potential for “significant wind-driven wildfires” across the region.

Fowler said the forecast is “very much a bad sign” for firefighters, but that the fire wasn’t immediately threatening any homes or structures as of Tuesday morning. Still, he said if the fire gets out of control, it could threaten the headquarters of Rancho Del Cielo, a local ranch located about three miles away.

Officials said the “Nunn Fire” broke out in a rugged and remote part of the High Lonesome Ranch, about 60 miles north of Fort Davis and about 20 miles south of Interstate 10. Winds out of the west were pushing the fire to the east.

“There are ranch roads back there, but it is quite a ways back,” Fowler said. “Our fire trucks have to go almost eight miles off the highway to get to the fire, and then they have to hike up to the ridges where the fire itself is burning.”

Firefighters from the Texas A&M Forest Service arrived at the fire site Monday night, camped there overnight and began working to control the fire Tuesday morning, Fowler said. Another 12-14 firefighters were en route to help with the effort. The Fort Davis Volunteer Fire Department posted a video on Facebook Tuesday morning showing a plane dropping fire retardant in the area.

Gusty winds across the region are expected to die down somewhat by Tuesday evening, but Fowler said firefighters might not get much relief as winds remain relatively high overnight into Wednesday.

“It’s a very risky situation for the fire to get out of control,” he said.

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