Wildfire burns historic structures in Big Bend National Park

The fire started in Mexico and jumped the Rio Grande River

Castolon Fire Big Bend National Park
Fire damage to the barracks (Visitor Center and store) and picnic area in Big Bend National Park. Credit: NPS/T. VandenBerg.

A wildfire that started in Mexico jumped across the Rio Grande Wednesday May 22 and spread into the Castolon area in Big Bend National Park in Southern Texas. At least one historic structure was very heavily damaged, the barracks structure which housed the Castolon Visitor Center and La Harmonia store.

Castolon Fire Big Bend National Park
Structural and wildland engines used in defense of the Castolon Historic District, as seen from the driveway of the Officers Quarters. Image credit: NPS/CSchuler.

Thursday afternoon the Park provided a summary of the incident:

“Around 6pm [Wednesday], as the fire first entered the park, additional wildland crews as well as structural crews were called in. At that time, shade temperatures were near 109 degrees, with single digit relative humidity. Winds were pushing the fire NW toward the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, and based on fire behavior at that time, the fire was expected to stay in the lower elevations along the Rio Grande burning the mesquite and river cane bosques.

“A dramatic shift in the gusting winds blew a shower of embers east and fell across the Castolon Historic District, igniting the roof of the bathrooms and the historic shade ramada of the barracks building (La Harmonia store and Castolon Visitor Center). This shade structure served as a wick, drawing the fire directly into the building attic. Structural fire crews were on scene with engines, but despite their training and using thousands of gallons of water, were unable to extinguish these buildings.

“Crews had to quickly prioritize which structures they could safely and effectively protect. They shifted their focus to the Officer’s Quarters, which was beginning to smolder. By peeling away stucco, they gained access to the interior wooden structure that was beginning to burn, and were able to save this structure with minimal scorching.

“Of the historic buildings at Castolon, all but 2 of them were ultimately saved by both wildland and structural crews who worked through the night. The saved structures include: the two Officers Quarters buildings, Magdalena House, Garlick House, Guard Shack, granary and tack room, Alvino House, as well as the historic wagon and steam pump. We want to thank the firefighting staff from the park, Terlingua Fire & EMS, and the Texas Forest Service crews for their incredibly hard and heroic work.

“The wildland fire continues to burn, and is estimated to be 600-800 acres. Wildland crews are working to contain the fire, but at this time no structures are directly threatened.”

Castolon Fire Big Bend National Park
Garlick house, with burned vegetation in foreground. Image credit: NPS/LBenavidez.
Castolon Fire Big Bend National Park
View of Alvino house, with a swath of dense vegetation burned nearby. Image credit: NPS/LBenavidez.
Map Castolon area Big Bend National Park
Map of the Castolon area Big Bend National Park. NPS map modified by Wildfire Today.
map Castolon Fire Big Bend National Park
3-D map showing the general location of the . Looking north. Wildfire Today/Google Earth.
Satellite photo Castolon Fire area
Satellite photo of the Castolon area, January 9, 2017.
Castolon Fire barracks building
The barracks building, January 27, 2017. Waymark photo.

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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. Google+

2 thoughts on “Wildfire burns historic structures in Big Bend National Park”

  1. Bummer.. Helped down at Santa Monica Mountains during the Woolsey fire that destroyed a bunch of their historic structures too.

  2. This is so sad. My friend and I were there at the store buying souvenirs and taking pictures. We had lunch at one of the tables around 11:30 am Wednesday morning May 24th before we took the drive to Santa Elena Canyon. Can’t believed the store and centered is damaged.

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