February 28, 2019 600 AM
PRESIDIO – A wildfire spread southeast of Presidio last Friday, consuming hundreds of acres of land, charring one vacant structure, and threatening the Loma Paloma RV Park and homes along FM 170. Friday’s high winds created a dangerous situation, but the fire was halted with the assistance of eight agencies coordinating to fight it.
Presidio Fire Chief Saul Pardo said, “With all the help we had, we were able to avoid what could’ve been a worse situation. We could have had a lot more structures burning. We were luckily able to prevent houses from catching along 170.” Only one vacant trailer on the Charlie Cecil Ranch was charred in the fire.
Presidio Mayor John Ferguson alerted Presidio’s City Administrator Joe Portillo of the fire around 4pm Friday, and the Presidio Volunteer Fire Department was the first to respond.
Portillo spoke with Ojinaga officials immediately, and soon received mutual aid help from Mexico, when two fire trucks from Ojinaga arrived. Marfa Volunteer Fire Department arrived soon after with two more trucks.
Additionally, Border Patrol, Presidio County Sheriff’s Office, TxDOT, City of Presidio employees, Texas Highway Patrol, and one person from the Texas Forest Service provided support.
According to Gary Mitchke, the county’s Emergency Management Coordinator, “The fire burned about 550 acres in the south county, and spread from Alamito Creek down Loma Pelona Road. It did jump the highway to the north side in a few places.” Mitchke said the fire most likely originated in Ojinaga, and was ignited by farmers burning their fields in Mexico, an annual occurrence.
“The fire was coming from south to north,” Pardo said, indicating that it had to have come from Mexico.
Through satellite data, the forest service can track hot spots as they appear; hot spots were sighted in Ojinaga Friday, prior to the fire crossing the Rio Grande. When it jumped the river, it entered Presidio County at Alamito Creek.
“Wind was a major factor in the spread of the fire. We were looking at consistent wind speeds of 25mph on average with gusts of 30 to 35 miles per hour,” according to Mitchke. “The wind was blowing out of the west, so when a fire started in Mexico, it was blowing directly to the river and the US side.”
With high winds and extremely dry conditions causing the fire to flare, additional assistance was needed. Border Patrol brought a brush truck and did traffic control. Presidio EMS handed out water, and provided care when a fire hose injured one Ojinaga firefighter. City of Presidio public works provided a water truck, and backhoe and bulldozer to push brush to make a line to keep the fire contained.
Portillo said that as the fire approached the Loma Paloma RV park, they had to act quickly to evacuate. There were nearly 20 RVs parked there at the time of the fire. “Border Patrol, the Sheriff’s office, EMS and anybody that was available went door to door” and helped them evacuate. “The fire probably got within half a mile.”
Portillo emphasized, “The firefighters did an excellent job of containing the fire and protecting the homes. The structure on the Charlie Cecil Ranch caught, but they were able to stop it. It’s slightly burned, but not to the ground or anything. It has black soot on it.”
According to Pardo, the Presidio Volunteer Fire Department worked until 2am to contain the fire.
The officials involved were reluctant to say that the event was preventable. The County’s Emergency Management Coordinator said, “This happens every year about this time. We don’t have any control over what happens in Mexico, and the farmers, this is the time of year they burn their fields.”
He pointed out that unfortunately, “The worst time for fire spread is the best time for them to burn their fields. I’ve been EMC and Fire Chief in Marfa for 13 years, and have been in fire departments for over 20, and it’s a perpetual thing. Every year it happens this way.”
“We’re not currently under a burn ban but we most likely will be next month, because we’re getting into the wildfire season now with the wind. The wind is our worst enemy out here when we get fires.” Mitchke said. “We’re very lucky that it wasn’t any worse than it was.”