Brush fire prompts evacuations in Presidio

A fire burned through acres of vegetation in Presidio last weekend. With the help of many area agencies, Presidio’s Volunteer Fire Department was able to contain the blaze before it reached nearby homes and the high school. Photo courtesy of the Presidio Volunteer Fire Department

PRESIDIO — A patch of brush on the south outskirts of Presidio went up in flames on Sunday, burning around five acres before firefighters were able to put it out.

The fire, which started around 2:30 p.m., burned for around two hours, prompting evacuations of an unknown number of houses in the area. Numerous agencies responded to the inferno, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Bomberos Ojinaga, the Ojinaga fire department.

The fire was initially discovered by some Border Patrol agents who were patrolling near the Rio Grande, said Greg Davis, a CBP spokesperson. The agency contacted the Presidio Volunteer Fire Department, who responded and took over scene command.

CBP weren’t “active in the firefighting per se,” Davis said, but they nonetheless helped respond to the incident, helping with traffic control in the area and evacuating residents  in the fire exclusion zone.

Adrian Flores, a volunteer firefighter in Presidio, said that “due to the dry conditions,” the fire went up in about 10 minutes, quickly ripping through thick brush of mesquite and river cane.

“We were just lucky that it wasn’t really that windy,” Flores said. Firefighters took defensive measures, helping to keep the fire from spreading to nearby homes. “Our main concern was the residents,” Flores said.

Flores thanked other agencies for helping respond to the fire. The Presidio Volunteer Fire Department has around a dozen members, he said. But the firefighters have jobs or are in high school and can’t always immediately respond to an incident.

It is “very rare” for a fire to get big enough to prompt calls to Ojinaga, Flores said. The last time the Bomberos Ojinaga responded to a fire in Presidio was in 2019, when a large grass fire started near Alamito Creek east of the city.

John Ferguson, the Presidio mayor, was getting ready for a bike ride with his wife Lucy when he first spotted the fire. He soon got a call from Saul Pardo, Presidio fire chief.

“He said, ‘Hey, do you suppose we could get the Ojinaga fire department over?’” Ferguson recalled. Prado did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

By press time, it’s unclear how exactly the fire started. Facing drought conditions, Presidio County is under a near-constant burn ban.

The Presidio Police Department, who also responded to the fire, currently has no criminal investigations into the fire’s origin, Police Chief Jose “Cabby” Cabezuela said on Monday. Regardless, the spot where the fire started — a patch of brush near Presidio High School — is frequently used by residents to dump trash, he said.

Flores, the volunteer firefighter, said fire officials were also still working out how the fire started. There are farms in the area, and it’s possible the fire was started by someone trying to clear brush, he said. There were no approved controlled burns in the area that day.

But, Flores said, it was also possible that the fire started without human involvement. There are some old irrigation generators in the area that could have also contributed to the fire — though he stressed fire officials just weren’t sure.

“There’s too many variables,” he said. “I don’t want to speculate.”

Sunday’s burn marks the second fire near Presidio in recent weeks. On the evening of December 28, the Presidio Volunteer Fire Department also responded to a fire around 10 miles west of Presidio.

In that case, Flores said, the fire apparently started after farmers in Mexico were clearing brush.

At a narrow point of the Rio Grande, “The fire happened to start in Mexico, and with a little wind it just hopped over,” Flores said of that incident.