TX Crews Save Historic Buildings From Wildfire

Firefighters saved most of the buildings in a historic area of Big Bend National Park this week after a wildfire spread across the Rio Grande.

Texas A&M firefighters hold the line during a wildfire at Big Bend National Park on Friday, May 24, 2019.

May 24–Firefighters saved most of the buildings in a historic area of Big Bend National Park this week after a fire spread across the Rio Grande and burned hundreds of acres of wildland.

The fire started Wednesday and has continued to burn along the Rio Grande, officials said. Structures are no longer in danger, but the flames have since consumed up to 1,200 acres of land, park officials estimated.

In a Facebook post, the park said firefighters were able to save all but two of the historic structures in the Castolon Historic Area. Only the barracks building, which housed the La Harmonia Company Store and Castolon Visitor Center, couldn’t be saved, the post said.

The building comprised two structures, including one primarily used for bathrooms, Henington said.

"It’s a great loss for all of us," Henington said of the historic barracks building. "The old [La Harmonia] store was like walking into a time machine."

La Harmonia Company moved into the barracks building in 1921, when it served as a frontier trading post and later as a concession for the park, according to the National Park Service.

The fire crossed into Texas and entered the park around 6 p.m. Wednesday. The flames were initially expected to stay in the lower elevations along the Rio Grande and burn the surrounding habitat, according to the post.

If the flames stayed along the river, it would have likely been a routine fire, Henington said.

"There’s a lot of heavy cane that needs to be burned, so in some way it’s doing us a favor along the river corridor," he said. "Its just a shame it had to get to the buildings."

Henington added that wind was a major factor in the fire spreading to the buildings. But it could have been worse.

Once firefighters realized they couldn’t extinguish the barracks building fire, they prioritized the structures they could safely protect, according to the park’s Facebook post.

"They shifted their focus to the Officer’s Quarters, which was beginning to smolder," the post said. "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."

Ultimately, firefighters saved two officers quarters’ buildings, the Magdalena House, the Garlick House, the Guard Shack, the granary and tack room, the Alvino House and the historic wagon and steam pump, according to the post.

The park expressed gratitude for the firefighters’ work in their Facebook post.

"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 post said.

Most of the 800,000-acre park will remain open over the Memorial Day weekend, park spokesman Tom Vandenberg said. The only closures are within the Castolon District, the Cottonwood Campground and Santa Elena Canyon.

___ (c)2019 the Houston Chronicle Visit the Houston Chronicle at www.chron.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Credit: Big Bend National Park

Texas A&M firefighters hold the line during a wildfire at Big Bend National Park on Friday, May 24, 2019.

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