Efficient Response to El Capitan Fire

Smoke rises from a butte
El Capitan fire.

NPS / Christie La Paz

“We are grateful to the Pecos Zone III Incident Management Team, and all of the crews, engines, and support staff for their hard work and professionalism in suppressing the El Capitan fire. They were a great example of cooperation and coordination between agencies. Because of their experience, training, and professionalism, there were no accidents or injuries to personnel working on the fire or to visitors throughout the entire fire.”

—Dennis A. Vásquez, superintendent, Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Smoke from El Capitan fire rises from a desert landscape.
El Capitan fire.

Photo by Judy Norman

The lightning-ignited El Capitan fire was detected in Guadalupe Mountains National Park on May 26, 2012. The fire was located on the west side of El Capitan Peak, approximately one mile east of historic Williams Ranch and approximately three miles southwest of Pine Springs, Texas. Fuels included yucca/sotol, cacti, brush, and grass in steep, rugged terrain. Red flag conditions, terrain, and fuels added to the potential for rapid wildfire spread.

The Pecos Zone Type III Incident Management Team (Incident Commander Northcott) assumed command of the El Capitan fire on May 28. Resources assigned to the fire included crews from California and crews from the nearby vicinity, including the Los Diablos Type 2 Initial Attack Crew consisting of Mexican National firefighters, and park staff from Big Bend National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Smoke from El Capitan fire rises from a desert landscape.
El Capitan fire.

Photo by Judy Norman

Engines assigned to the fire included the Boles Acres Fire Department, the Chihuahua Engine from Ruidoso, the Truman and Eagles Engines from Mescalero, American Wildfire in Capitan, and Shiloh Wildfire Services in Carlsbad, all from New Mexico.

A Type 3 helicopter from BIA Mescalero Agency also flew logistical and reconnaissance missions in support of firefighters on the ground.

The fire team and resources quickly mobilized and worked effectively and efficiently to contain the fire in just three days at approximately 171 acres. No structures were damaged or destroyed. Defensible space work conducted in the Pine Springs area and in the Pine Springs Campground during the El Capitan fire will also help protect structures from future wildfires in the area.

Map of El Capitan fire 2012.
Map of El Capitan fire.

“We are grateful to the Pecos Zone III Incident Management Team, an interagency team, and all of the crews, engines, and support staff for their hard work and professionalism in suppressing the El Capitan fire. They were a great example of cooperation and coordination between agencies. Their actions prevented the fire from spreading around El Capitan into Guadalupe Pass and Pine Springs, preventing damage to the Pine Springs Visitor Center and Campground, the park housing area, and Texas Department of Transportation housing area and other structures,” said Dennis A. Vásquez, Guadalupe Mountains National Park superintendent. “All of the crews that worked on this fire worked under very rough conditions with very steep, rugged terrain, high heat, dryness, and wind, along with desert flora--yuccas, sotols, and a variety of cacti—all around. Because of their experience, training and professionalism, there were no accidents or injuries to personnel working on the fire or to visitors throughout the entire fire.”

Contact: John Montoya, fire management officer
Email: e-mail us
Phone: (915) 828 - 3251 ext. 2801

Last updated: December 14, 2017