Map of Coyote Fire, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, May 11, 2016
There’s a wildfire in the highest terrain in Texas. It was ignited by a lightning strike on Saturday near Coyote Peak in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. That’s in Far West Texas near the border with New Mexico, south of Carlsbad Caverns.
It’s called the Coyote Fire. With the centennial celebration of the national park system, visitor numbers are up across the country. But not this week, and not in this national park, says Drew Stuart, a reporter in Hudspeth County. “So it’s maybe not be the best time to visit the park.”
All the backcountry is closed to the public. The fire is burning in the grassy slopes of the foothills and into higher sections, beneath stands of Douglas fir and ponderosa pine. “I can see, looking up in the mountains,” says Stuart. “I can see places I’ve hiked in a number of times that are being burned in the fire, right now. And so I know those areas pretty well. And they are densely forested areas, with pine trees and Douglas fire trees and oak trees.
On Tuesday morning, the Coyote Fire was at 4,500 acres. Late the following day, it was twice that amount. “As of Wednesday afternoon,” he explains, “the Coyote Fire had burned about 9,000 acres.”
After several days of high winds, the forecast ahead is calm, and the interagency groups managing it are confident. The fire is in rough terrain and is not threatening structures.
Stuart explains, “The attitude of the fire management folks and the park is that this (is) a positive thing. Fire is necessary to the ecology of these alpine environments. And really, it’s early in the fire season, so they’ve got, at this point, 250 personnel there, you know, on call to deal with the fire.
They’re not trying to suppress it, but just to monitor it. They’ll even allow the Coyote Fire to burn a few thousand acres for the next several days.
“This is a good thing. It’s a boon. It prevents the expense of prescribed burns. They’ve got a lot of resources there to make sure it doesn’t get out of control. It’s part of the natural cycle of the mountains.”
They’re OK with the fire spreading to the south and to the east. But they’re holding their line to the north, to prevent it from encroaching on private lands.