Firefighters are getting a handle on the “Powerline Fire” that’s burned more than 1,700 acres in Big Bend National Park this week.
The park said Friday morning the fire was 75% contained and had stopped actively spreading. Park spokesperson David Elkowitz said it’s expected the fire will be fully contained sometime this weekend.
“Crews were able to make it around the entire fire permitter, we are not expecting it to spread today,” Elkowitz said. “They’re likely going to go around the fire perimeter one more time, work the hot spots, pull in the edges.”
Elkowitz said the park is hoping to reach 100% containment this weekend, possibly as soon as Saturday.
As of Thursday evening, the fire had burned and estimated 1,790 acres after beginning near Panther Junction, park headquarters.
All roads and the park as a whole remained open on Friday, with the exception of two backcountry campsites: Nugent Mountain and Chilicotal. About 70 people have been on hand firefighting the fire, including 14 “Los Diablos”, elite firefighters from just across the border in Mexico.
On Thursday, the fire was still growing on its southeastern flank on Pummel Peak, but ground firefighters and assistance from a helicopter dropping water helped stop the spread.
While it’s expected to be business as usual in the park this weekend, visitors are being asked to not stop along the road from Panther Junction to Rio Grande Village.
“We are asking the public to not stop in the black or walk in the black until it’s 100% and we’re sure it’s safe,” Elkowitz said.
Park officials are still studying how the fire might affect vegetation in the burn area. Elkowitz said there will likely be some benefits from the fire.
“In general, fire is a positive for most of these grassland scrub ecosystems,” he said. “It restores nutrients, it burns excess brush and allows the ecosystem to regenerate well after spring rains.”
Still, Elkowitz said the invasive “Lehman’s lovegrass” could be helped by the fire.
“It’s a mixed blessing,” he said.
The weather proved beneficial for firefighters this week, as winds died down and temperatures cooled after Monday and Tuesday. Elkowitz said if the winds had kept up, the fire might have not been so easy to control.
“This ecosystem tends to see larger fires when we have heavy winds,” he said. “It is very difficult to stop a wildland fire with winds in the range we were seeing on February 1st.”