Big Bend National Park Fresno Fire Honored as Southwest Fire Science Incident of the Year

Incident of the Year 2016 Award Certificate
The Southwest Fire Science Consortium honored the Fresno Fire at Big Bend National Park as the Incident of the Year 2016 for fire managers’ efforts to safely maximize beneficial fire.

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The Southwest Fire Science Consortium honored the Fresno Fire at Big Bend National Park as the Incident of the Year 2016 for fire managers’ efforts to safely maximize beneficial fire.
The award recognized Richie Sinkovitz, Big Bend National Park Engine Captain, who served as Incident Commander for the fire, as well as interdisciplinary park staff for their contributions.

The award recognized Richie Sinkovitz, Big Bend National Park Engine Captain, who served as Incident Commander for the fire, as well as interdisciplinary park staff for their contributions.
Man speaking at podium
Richard Gatewood, Fire Ecologist for the Permian & Southern Plains Fire Groups, accepted the award on behalf of Big Bend National Park.

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Consortium Coordinator Barb Satink Wolfson and Consortium Executive Board Chair, Dr. Andi Thode from the Northern Arizona University School of Forestry, presented the award at the pre-season Southwest Area Incident Management Team meeting in Flagstaff, Ariz. on February 7, 2017. Richard Gatewood, Fire Ecologist for the Permian & Southern Plains Fire Groups, accepted the award on behalf of Big Bend National Park.

aerial view of smoke in the mountains
2016 Big Bend NP Fresno Fire

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Determining Incident Objectives

Based on safety and ecological reasons, fire managers determined the best course of action was to monitor the Fresno Fire while at the same time also ordering resources in case the fire moved in a direction in which suppression action would be needed. Their decisions were based on science, objectives identified in the park’s fire management plan, including restoration of a historically overgrazed arid grassland, and an analysis of the current situation.
Incorporating Science in Decision Making

Big Bend National Park has vegetation plots that go back to early 1950s, documenting the recovery of the parks sotol-grasslands from heavy livestock grazing. Additionally, in the early 2000s, the park conducted fire history research in the Chisos Mountains documenting the fire history of its forest and woodlands, which identified a negative correlation between livestock grazing and fire frequency.

Because the sotol-grasslands skirt completely around the Chisos Mountains it is reasonable to assume that historically fires that started in the sotol-grasslands could ascend into the Chisos, thus linking the fire regime of the two ecosystems. Thus an increasing occurrence of fire in the sotol-grassland is an indicator of native grass recovery grass. Eventually a return of recurring fire to the woodlands and forest of the Chisos Mountains will help restore the natural fire regime to the entire landscape.

Interdisciplinary Cooperation

Pre-planning and collaboration among park fire and resource staff played an important role in enabling the park to manage the 273 acre lightning-ignited Fresno Fire for resource objectives. The park’s fire ecologist, botanist, archeologist, hydrologist, wildlife biologist, GIS specialist and representatives from the ranger discussed potential concerns and helped determine that there were no resource management concerns associated with the Fresno Fire. All agreed that the proposed action of allowing the fire to burn was the best.

Last updated: December 14, 2017