Pablo De La Rosa is a freelance journalist, reporting statewide for Texas Public Radio and nationally for NPR.

Wildfire engulfs at least 200 acres of Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, cause not yet known

A map of Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge showing the approximate area of a wildfire that engulfed at least 200 acres of the reserve. / Pablo De La Rosa

Story update, Friday, September 8, 2023 11:14 PM

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge will partially reopen to the public on Sunday, September 10, five days after a wildfire engulfed the southeast corner of the reserve on Tuesday night, early Wednesday morning this week.

Here’s the latest statement from Santa Ana:

As of today, Friday, September 8, the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge wildfire is 75% contained. There are currently no threats to other parts of the Santa Ana refuge or facilities. The South Texas Refuge Complex Wildland Fire Program along with Wildland Fire Crew from the Texas Mid-Coast National Wildlife Refuge, will continue to remain on the scene until the fire is 100% contained. The South Texas Refuge Complex Wildland Fire Program along with Wildland Fire Crew from the Texas Mid-Coast National Wildlife Refuge, will continue to monitor and address the continuing smoke and burning in the interior of the wildfire’s footprint. The refuge is anticipated to partially reopen on Sunday, September 10.

Wildfire sparks at Santa Ana, the ‘jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System’

On Tuesday night and into early Wednesday morning, a wildfire ran through Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Alamo, Texas–one of the largest nature reserves protecting migratory birds in the Rio Grande Valley.

The reserve first became aware of the situation at 5:29 PM, according to a public statement. By 6:07 PM, the wildfire had already engulfed “25 to 30 acres”.

At 10:30 PM KRGV reported that at least 200 acres had been consumed by the wildfire.

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is positioned along the juncture of two major migratory routes for many species of birds and is considered the ‘jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System.’ The refuge hosts birds, butterflies and many other species not found anywhere else in the United States.

The origin point of the wildfire was in the southeast corner of the refuge, but the cause is unknown

Urban Park Ranger Thamera Flores told KRGV that the fire started in the southeast corner of the refuge “between our river pump and Vireo trail”.

Local fire departments, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Texas Department of Public Safety, along with help from the U.S. Border Patrol responded to the blaze, but none of the agencies involved have issued any statements about the exact cause of the fire.

NIDIS, the National Integrated Drought Information System, is currently reporting that the Rio Grande Valley is experiencing “moderate drought” conditions, or category “D1”, in its monitoring system, which is updated weekly on Thursdays.

A recently updated may showing drought conditions in South Texas, from NIDIS, the National Integrated Drought Information System.

On Wednesday morning, The National Weather Service office in Brownsville tweeted that multiple cities in the Rio Grande Valley are coming close to breaking historical heat records.

According to the Western Fire Chiefs Association, most wildfires move at an average speed of 14 MPH but wind patterns can cause them to spread more quickly. The association says that 89% of wildfires are caused by humans.

Santa Ana is closed for now

Santa Ana issues a statement on their Facebook account that the refuge will be closed for 1 to 2 days, based on field assessments.

The wildfire continued moving northeast and west as of midnight, according to Santa Ana. The refuge issued a statement at 1:30 AM that it will be closed to the public for at least 72 hours, based on field assessments.

About

Pablo De La Rosa reports on immigration, border communities, preserving democracy, and Latin America for Texas Public Radio and NPR from the Texas-Mexico border, where he grew up. He’s the host of the daily Spanish newscast TPR Noticias Al Día and a regular contributor at The Border Chronicle.

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