Update on Rockhouse fire at Fort Davis, Texas

Rockhouse fire map 4-10-2011
NASA satellite image from April 10 showing the Rockhouse fire at Fort Davis, Texas and the Roper fire northeast of Alpine, Texas.

The Rockhouse fire that burned through Fort Davis, Texas on Sunday (that Wildfire Today told you about yesterday) has been mapped at 108,000 acres using imagery from a satellite. The Texas Forest Service reports that 23 homes and 2 businesses were destroyed in the fire, which is now 10% contained. Mike Quesinberry’s Type 1 Incident Management Team will assume command Tuesday morning of this fire and the 25,000-acre Roper fire northeast of Alpine, Texas.


Mike Quesinberry
Incident Commander Mike Quesinberry

The National Park Service provided this information today about the effects of the Rockhouse fire on Fort Davis National Historic Site:


Fort Davis National Historic Site (TX)
Park Closed Due To Major Wildfire

Fort Davis NHS has been closed due to the proximity and impacts of the 80,000-acre Rock House Fire, which burned more than 60 acres on the west side of the park this past Saturday. The fire is currently 10% contained. The fire burned through pinion-juniper, brush and grass in the higher elevation area of the park, most of it on land just acquired in January.

The historic core of the park was not affected, and no park structures have been damaged or lost. The park closed on Saturday and will remain closed until the fire danger has passed and power can be restored. It is currently operating on a generator, but much of the local community remains without electricity and water, as more than 60 power poles in the community were destroyed by the fire.

The fire started on Saturday about 22 miles south of the park near Marfa, Texas, and burned rapidly north to Fort Davis, exhibiting extreme fire behavior and reaching the park within four to five hours. Numerous private homes were destroyed as the fire moved through the town of Fort Davis and into the mountains toward Balmorhea. While there were several close calls, no park employee homes were lost. Unfortunately, the home of Jerry and Jeanie Yarborough, the park’s retired superintendent and his wife Jeanie, was destroyed in the fire.  They were not home at the time of the fire and are safe, but have lost all of their belongings in the fire (for a related report, click here).  The park extends their condolences to the family.

Firefighters have limited the fire’s spread to higher elevation areas within the park and continue to mop up hotspots. Park resources have mowed the grass around historic structures to provide defensible space and firefighters and have established hose lays to provide structural protection for historic buildings. Extreme wildfire danger continues due to pervasive drought conditions (last month was the driest March in Texas history since 1895), high temperatures, high winds, and low relatively humidity.  As winds shift, the fire still has the potential to move back towards the park. The potential for long range spotting is also a significant threat.

NPS resources at Fort Davis include two collateral duty park firefighters and one engine with a three-person crew from Big Bend.  Partners include the Texas Forest Service and numerous local volunteer fire departments from nearby communities, including the Fort Davis Volunteer Fire Department. Fort Davis NHS has provided rural fire assistance funding to the Fort Davis VFD each year since 2001, allowing them to acquire personal protective gear and improve the department’s wildland firefighting capability. This ongoing partnership helps foster collaboration at the local level and improves firefighter safety.

A Type I incident management team from the Southern Area was briefed by Texas Forest Service fire managers on April 11th and will assume command of the Trans Pecos Complex of fires in the West Branch – the Rockhouse and Hickman Fires, a new 20,000-acre fire near Alpine, and several smaller fires in the area, including new starts reported on the morning of April 11th due to lightning. Additional information:

UPDATE at 8:52 MT, April 12, 2011

A Facebook page has been created about the “Fort Davis fires”.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

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