Big Bend National Park To Reopen Chisos Basin After Weeks Of Battling Wildfire

Since it was first spotted earlier this month, the South Rim Fire has burned through about 1,300 acres of Big Bend National Park. The fire is now 80% contained and no longer “a threat to developed areas,” according to officials.

The South Rim Fire in Big Bend National Park has seen zero growth in the last several days, according to park officials. As of Wednesday, the wildfire was 80% contained. (Photo courtesy of Big Bend National Park)

By Carlos Morales

With the South Rim Fire—which has been burning for about two weeks—now largely contained, park officials are preparing to reopen some of the popular trails and destinations that closed earlier this month in response to the wildfire.

Beginning Friday, visitors will be able to enter the Chisos Basin, which has been closed since April 10 as firefighters worked to limit the spread of the blaze. Some of the locations reopening include the Chisos Mountain Lodge, visitor center, basin campground and other popular hiking destinations, like the Window and Lost Mine trails. 

| A full list of open hiking trails can be found here. | 

“One of our big goals was to reopen [the Chisos Basin] as soon as possible,” said park spokesperson Tom VandenBerg. “We hope to open up everything else as soon as we can.”

For the last six days, the South Rim Fire—which has spread across 1,341 acres of desert shrub and pine trees—has had zero growth. Response officials estimate the fire could be fully contained by Friday when the Chisos Basin reopens to the public, but VandenBerg said that’s not guaranteed, and a lot depends on getting more “boots on the ground.” 

As of this Wednesday, there are nearly 90 firefighters and emergency personnel responding to the wildfire, including Mexico’s well-known Los Diablos fire crew. Also included in the park’s fire response is a pack of mules, used to help carry cargo, gear, water and other supplies to the rugged and remote areas the fire burned. 

With the wildfire not fully contained, park officials are warning of hotspots and lingering smoke. As a result, and to allow response teams to “assess and begin rehabilitation of the burnered areas,” the South Rim and Emory Peak trails will remain closed until further notice. 

| A full list of closed hiking trails can be found here. | 

Park officials hope a field report expected this week will provide a clearer picture showing the extent of the damage the fire caused. According to VandenBerg,  some of the initial results, although informal, show little damage to campgrounds in the Chisos Mountains.

While assessments are ongoing, park officials have said the wildfire could be a benefit to the region and aid in the overall health of the vegetation in the Chisos Basin. 

“While the evidence of fire will be visible for years, I expect the vegetation to come back healthier than it was pre-burn,” said superintendent Bob Krumenaker in a press release. “We don’t expect any significant impact on wildlife.”

Once the fire is fully contained, park staff will be able to survey burned areas and get a better sense of the fire’s impact on wildlife, like the Peregrine falcons nesting in the Chisos Basin. 

It’s still unclear what caused the South Rim Fire. While natural causes are a possibility, VandenBerg previously told Marfa Public Radio the wildfire broke out near a backcountry campsite, which he called “a little suspicious.” Park officials plan to investigate the fire and will make their findings public. 

About Carlos Morales

Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director, Border and Immigration Reporter, and Morning Edition Host.
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