In Big Bend, One Of The Biggest Fires In Decades Is Contained But Still Burning

Fire is essential to Big Bend’s ecology, but some areas that burned hotter could take longer to recover.

By Michael Marks & Caroline CovingtonMay 3, 2021 12:57 pm

In April, the South Rim Fire burned about 1,300 acres in Big Bend National Park’s Chisos Basin.

The park’s deputy superintendent, David Elkowitz, told Texas Standard that the fire is contained but still burning in some areas.

The fire forced park rangers to close down several trails, a campsite and other attractions to visitors. It caused “minimal” damage to some archaeological sites, and one firefighter suffered an injured finger. In places where the fire burned longer and hotter – which Elkowitz estimates was about 20% of the land burned – the vegetation there will take longer to recover. But fire is also essential to Big Bend’s ecology.

Fire is part of the landscape here,” he said. “There are some plants that are fire-dependent and do better when there is periodic fire: it recycles nutrients; it brings that in, down back into the ecosystem in terms of burning up trees that have passed and fallen over the years, leaf litter, other things like that. So, yeah, it’s certainly a part of it and it certainly can have very beneficial effects.”

The cause of the fire is still unknown.

Elkowitz says there hasn’t been a fire of that “intensity” in decades, and says the South Rim Fire might actually prevent another big fire from starting for years to come.

“I don’t think we’ll see more [fires] necessarily,” he said. “In fact, this probably reduces the possibility of a large fire to some degree for a period of time, in that it did take out some of the the built up fuels because we have not had a fire there of this intensity for decades.

Over 90% of the park is now open to visitors, Elkowitz says, including many of the Chisos Mountains trails.

This story has been updated to clarify that the fire started in April, not in May.

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