After Nearly A Week, Castolon Fire in Big Bend National Park Is 90 Percent Contained

By Carlos Morales

A fire that started in Mexico last Tuesday and jumped the Rio Grande into Big Bend National park is now 90 percent contained, according to park officials.

The West Texas blaze has burned for more than a week now, scorching through mesquite thickets and destroying two historic adobe sites near the Castolon district. At its height, the fire spread across roughly 1,300 acres of Big Bend National Park, but through the Memorial Day weekend, fire crews were able to mitigate the fire’s growth.

Firefighters meet on the banks of the Rio Grande while responding to the Castolon Fire in Big Bend National Park. One of the fighter fighters is a member of Los Diablos, a team from Mexico. (Courtesy of Big Bend National Park)

By Thursday, park officials said there were “no major updates to report.”

“The fire activity should be low today with the higher humidity and cooler temps,” said Big Bend National Park’s chief of interpretation Tom VandenBerg in an email to Marfa Public Radio.

In a later update, VandenBerg said park officials were hoping to reach 100 percent containment by late Saturday, and said existing closures in the park would remain in effect through the weekend.

A handful of responders, including the international Los Diablos, are still on site, monitoring the fire. Along with the other remaining crews, they will continue to stay on the fire until its fully contained, according to Jenette Jurado, a ranger at Big Bend National Park.

“We still have the Los Diablos firefighters on scene and they’re doing some mop up work within that perimeter,” said Jurado earlier this week.

Crews will remain in the area over the next couple of days to ensure there isn’t any “remaining heat within the stumps of the mesquite trees,” which might cause the fire to reignite. Dry, hot weather — with temperatures reaching the triple digits — has also become a concern for park staff. But it seems likely the fire will be fully contained soon.

Los Diablos are also working in areas outside of the Castolon historic district, clearing out dry vegetation and other potential “fuels.” The Springtime wildflower bloom in the park has left behind a “major increase” of dry fuels throughout the park, according to VandenBerg.

While the fire is nearly under control, the park remains under high fire danger condition.

Last week, after the Castolon fire spread into Big Bend National Park, embers landed on the area’s historic barracks building, which was home to the Castolon Visitor Center and the new La Harmonia Store. The adobe buildings — first built nearly 100 years ago to house U.S. Cavalry during the Mexican Revolution —  were destroyed.

“In the first few days of the fire, there was extensive growth [of the fire],” said Jurado. “These crews were doing an incredible job to make sure there wasn’t any further loss of structures.”

It’s currently unclear how much it will cost to restore the buildings or the impact it will have on the park going forward. But with the destruction to parts of the Castolon historic district, Big Bend enthusiasts and groups like the Big Bend Conservancy have set up a fundraiser to help cover costs from the fire.

“The public that cares so deeply for this park is one of the reasons why coming to work so easy in the mornings,” said Jurado. “And of course, there’s going to be a long road ahead of us as we look to see what can and will be done moving forward from here.”

While Old Maverick Road has reopened, two road closures remain in effect: Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is closed after mile 22 and River Road West, from Buenos Aires to Castolon, is still closed.

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