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Fire In Big Bend National Park Destroys Historic Sites, Causes Closures

Historic barracks and officers quarters in Big Bend National Park were extensively damaged in an overnight fire on Thursday.
Historic barracks and officers quarters in Big Bend National Park were extensively damaged in an overnight fire on Thursday.

A fire that started in Mexico on Tuesday jumped the Rio Grande soon after and ignited fires on the U.S. side of the river in Big Bend National Park, causing damage to historic buildings and forcing site closures throughout the southern pocket of the sprawling West Texas park.

Officials say hot embers spread to the park and began burning on Wednesday at 6 pm. By Thursday, park officials said the fire had scorched an estimated 600 acres “and is not yet fully contained.”

In photos shared online, some damage is visible to the officer quarters in Castolon, which were being used as a residence for park staff. Embers from the fire also landed on the area’s historic barracks building, which was home to the Castolon Visitor Center and La Harmonia Store. The adobe buildings — first erected nearly 100 years ago to house U.S. Calvary during the Mexican Revolution — were destroyed.

“Very quickly, a couple of those buildings became engulfed,” said Big Bend National Park’s Acting Superintendent Tom VandenBerg. “It was a very difficult battle for the firefighters on scene.”

The woodland fire jumped the Rio Grande River Tuesday and led to evacuations. This photo was taken from Panther Junction.
Credit National Park Service
The woodland fire jumped the Rio Grande River Tuesday and led to evacuations. This photo was taken from Panther Junction.

VandenBerg said fire crews were able to save a handful of historic adobe structures, including the  Alvino House, which he described as the oldest building in Big Bend National Park.

Wildland and structural fire crews were on the scene Wednesday evening and “worked throughout the night.” First responders from Big Bend National Park, Terlingua and Fort Stockton are working to contain the fire. 

Fifty additional responders, including  Mexico’s Los Diablos, arrived in the park Thursday to help battle the blaze.

As of Thursday afternoon, it was unclear if the fire had grown or if any other areas had been damaged. Weather permitting, park staff plans to fly a drone over the damaged area to survey the affected acreage.

While the fire has yet to be contained, it has since shifted away from historic structures, according to VandenBerg. It’s now burning along the Rio Grande, through heavy Mesquite thickets.

Due to the fire, several areas of the park have been closed off to visitors ahead of the Memorial Day weekend.

But VandenBerg said staff will work to open up scenic routes in the Castolon area.

“We’re trying to keep things open as possible, but also keep it safe and to provide access for emergency vehicles, equipment and personnel,” said VandenBerg

The closures include access to the Cottonwood campground and Santa Elena Canyon.

– Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is partially opened

– Old Maverick Road

– River Road West (From Buenos Aires to Castolon)

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