Early Monday morning view of a grass fire burning in the Puertacitas Mountains between Marfa and Fort Davis. (Tom Michael / KRTS)
This is a developing story. We’ll update this post with information as we receive it.
Monday, March 30, 3:30 pm
The wildfire in the Puertacitas Mountains south of Fort Davis and north of Marfa has essentially come under containment, as of Monday afternoon. The grass fire, which consumed some 700 acres, is expected to burn out. Area ranchers will continue to monitor it.
Monday, March 30, 10 am
The grass fire burning in the Puertacitas Mountains south of Fort Davis and north of Marfa had at last report grown to between 600 and 700 acres in size, but was 60% contained Monday morning, according to Jim Fowler with the Fort Davis Volunteer Fire Department (FDVFD).
“Most of the burning is occurring near the peak of the mountain,” Fowler said. Crews are now returning from fighting the fire but will continue to monitor it.
“All fire department personnel have come off the line and are returning to the station,” Fowler said. “The rancher will continue to monitor the fire.”
Firefighters were briefly dispatched back to the scene at 10 a.m. this morning, after having left the fire at 4:30 for a few hours of sleep. Crews were on hand throughout Sunday night.
The fire grew from an initial size of about 100 acres Sunday evening. It was burning Monday morning in the Puertacitas Mountains five miles away from the Mano Prieto subdivision, but Fowler has said there is “no danger” to area residents at this time.
“Cooler temperatures and high humidity have kept the fire down,” Fowler said.
Monday, March 30, 7 am
The flames have been mostly concentrated at higher elevations. Though Fowler says there has been some minor burning of grasses below the mountain tops, there still is no immediate danger to area residents.
In our original posts (below), we reported the fire was mostly contained on its southern and western flanks, and more actively burning on its northern and eastern flanks. Fowler tells us this morning that has since flipped – fire crews are now focused on controlling the southern and western flanks.
Winds Monday morning are blowing out of the north, but are expected to shift to the east by Monday afternoon. Crews are preparing for the possibility that those winds could complicate firefighting efforts, but those winds aren’t expected to be heavy.
Increased humidity overnight helped calm the flames. Firefighters are hoping tomorrow’s forecast for thunderstorms materializes.
Sunday, March 29 9:30 pm
The grass fire burning in the Puertacitas Mountains south of Fort Davis has grown to an estimated 350 acres. The fire’s southern and western flanks, facing toward Marfa, have been mostly extinguished, while firefighters continue to work on the northern and eastern flanks.
Jim Fowler with the Fort Davis Volunteer Fire Department (FDVFD) says firefighters are having a harder time fighting the flames on the north and east sides because of heavy brush and grass combined with steep terrain.
“They’re getting out on foot, carrying the hose for a little ways, but then it’s water packs and hand tools,” Fowler says.
Crews are stationed at the base of the fire, and at the top of the mountain ridge.
About 25 firefighters are on the scene Sunday evening. FDVFD earlier requested assistance from the Davis Mountains Resort Fire Department, who dispatched three firefighters.
“I think we’re gonna get a handle on it,” Fowler says, “but of course we’re worried about it getting out of hand.”
Firefighters are focusing on keeping the flames at higher elevations and away from lower ground.
“It’s on a ridge-top, and it will eventually run out of fuel up there,” Fowler says. “Unless the winds pick up and start throwing embers.”
Fowler says it’s also possible the fire could burn down into a nearby valley and eventually burn out there.
Winds have remained out of the northeast at about 10-15 mph this evening, but are expected to increase slightly with a light cold front moving into the region sometime around midnight. 20-25 mph wind gusts are expected, but winds are not forecasted to shift direction, and the wind increase should only last for about an hour or two.
Crews won’t be able to fully investigate the cause of the fire until Monday morning, but that it’s believed the fire started in an arroyo on the southeast side of the mountain and spread as winds blew the flames uphill.
Both Fowler and Jeff Davis County Sheriff Rick McIvor said the pilot of a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) helicopter that surveyed the area earlier on Sunday spotted a solar-powered water well that might have sparked the fire.
“The winds may have broken a wire or something, but we don’t know whether that’s where it started or not,” Fowler says.
The fire is proof that, even with recent rains, fire conditions remain high in the Trans-Pecos region.
Fowler says even with decent rainfall, the type of vegetation in the Puertacitas that’s burning is prone to catching fire easily.
“The very fine fuels, the grasses, will dry out immediately, and they’re the ones that are getting this fire,” he says.
Small trees and other fuels retain more moisture and are harder to ignite, Fowler says, “but the grasses will go completely dry within a day of hot, dry weather – and that’s exactly what we had today.”
Sunday, March 29 8:15 pm
We’ve received new details on the wildfire burning south of Fort Davis in mountainous terrain east of SH 17 Sunday evening.
Jim Fowler with the Fort Davis Volunteer Fire Department said the fire is a grass fire burning in the Puertacitas Mountains, near the Poor Farm Ranch.
The fire was reported to be burning uphill to the northwest. Fire crew from Marfa, Fort Davis and the Texas Forest Service, along with the Jeff Davis County Sheriff’s office, are responding and formulating a plan.
“The only major structures near by are Mano Prieto, about five miles to the northwest,” Fowler said.
Winds as of about 7 p.m. were blowing out of the northwest at 10 mph, and are expected to shift to the northeast and remain at 10 mph by morning.
“Humidity is currently 10 percent but should recover to 65 percent by dawn,” Fowler said.
Original Post – Sunday, March 29, 7 pm
A wildfire was burning in the mountains of private land south of Fort Davis Sunday evening.
Fire crews from Fort Davis, Marfa, Presidio and Jeff Davis Counties were among those responding to the fire burning on the east side of SH 17.
The fire was estimated to be about 100 to 150 acres and burning in high, mountainous terrain, according to responders stationed on both the north and south sides of the fire.
Presidio County Emergency Management Coordinator Gary Mitschke, speaking from the south side of the mountain range closer to Marfa, said the fire appeared to be traveling “pretty good,” and that his team was focused on keeping the fire from reaching lower elevations.
“We’re trying to formulate a plan right now,” Mitschke said Sunday evening. “It’s in some pretty good fuels.”
Speaking from the north side of the fire, about 10 miles south of Fort Davis, Jeff Davis County Sheriff Rick McIvor said the flames appeared to be spreading slowly from his vantage point.
“It’s still high up, it hasn’t been real fast,” he said.
McIvor said a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) helicopter had surveyed the fire from the air earlier Sunday evening. One possibility for where the fire started was a solar panel near a water well, though crews aren’t yet ruling out other possibilities.
“That appears to be what started it,” McIvor said. “That’s what the pilot saw.”
McIvor said the fire was inaccessible to vehicles because of the steep terrain, so crews will be looking into whether or not air resources are needed.
“We’ve already talked about possible air crews coming in, if they need to get aircraft here to fly and drop water,” he said.
By about 7 p.m. Sunday evening, crews had yet to decide on a full course of action action, but they continued to monitor the way the fire was moving and seemed likely to stay on the scene through Sunday night.