Los Diablos Fire Crew

Los Diablos firefighters

An International Partnership

Big Bend National Park’s Fire Management program has benefited for three decades from the assistance of Mexican nationals who live in the tiny villages immediately across the Rio Grande from the park.

Big Bend National Park is located in truly one of the most remote corners in the Lower 48, which means that the closest Federal or State firefighting response can take a significant amount of time to mobilize and reach the area (potentially days). In 1989 the park experienced an above average number of wildfires, and the need for a shorter response time became apparent. The initial idea of Chief Ranger Phil Koepp was to develop a local source of firefighters that were nearby and always READY to fight fire in this remote park. The ranchers, cowboys, and farmers of the local Mexican villages wholeheartedly embraced the opportunity and told him that they would work "like devils" if permitted to do so...and the name of the new fire crew (Los Diablos) was born.

With assistance from the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Border Patrol, program participants are eligible for parole into the United States on an annual basis to assist any emergency firefighting effort in the company of Big Bend National Park staff. The Department of Homeland Security approves the local Big Bend National Park rural crossing waiver for Los Diablos that could meet both the legal USA entry and work permit requirements. This approval is renewed each year.

The Boquillas Port of Entry (official crossing) was established and opened in 2013. Today, when the Diablos are mobilized for work, they cross at the Port of Entry, and the National Park Service facilitates their transport to the specific work area. This can happen in a matter of hours!

One of the most unique features of the crew is that many are family. They are brothers, fathers and cousins. Their families lived in this rugged border area for generations. They also share similar trades in Mexico when not actively working fires. Every Diablo can saddle and ride a horse. They are ranch hands, cowboys, construction workers. Some guide tourists crossing into the village of Boquillas.

Los Diablos logo

Los Diablos are annually supported by the National Park Service and the Fire Management Program at Big Bend National Park. The National Park Service provides annual wildland firefighting training and ensures that each member is ready for duty. They have responded to wildland fire emergencies in the USA since 1990. They regularly participate in prescribed burns and other fuel management activities in Big Bend. They have also responded to hurricane disasters.

Hurricane Katrina response (August 2005), The Rockhouse Fire (April 2011); Hurricane Sandy response (October 2012, New York), Castolon Fire (May 2019), Powerline Fire (Feb 2016), South Rim 4 Fire (May 2021), Hurricane Maria response (2017, the Virgin Islands), Hurricane Ian response (2022), and many wildfires in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Idaho, California, Oregon, and Washington.

In 2022 the Diablos assisted the Texas A&M Forest Service on initial attack with fires in North Central Texas near Palo Pinto, Killeen and Glen Rose. They then headed to California for the Radford and Barnes Fires and later to Florida to support efforts with Hurricane Ian Recovery.

Big Bend is a land of borders. Situated on the boundary with Mexico, it is a place where countries and cultures meet. This remote area has never been an easy place to survive. Early settlers quickly realized that they needed to depend upon each other, regardless of which side of the Rio Grande they lived on. The cooperative bi-national culture that developed lives on today through the Diablos program. The Diablos program has positively strengthened the relationship between the park and its neighbors to the south by demonstrating how we can successfully work together and support each other. The firefighters depend on the park to provide this special employment opportunity; the park depends on the firefighters to accomplish the goals of the fire management program.

The need of local firefighters still exists today. To have over 30 qualified and experienced wildland firefighters living less than an hour away and available year-round is a great asset to Big Bend National Park. The relationship has improved understanding between the park and the villages and results in strong bi-national pride for all their accomplishments.

diablos cutting tamarisk
Diablos crew assisting the park with exotic Tamarisk removal.

Last updated: June 12, 2023

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Mailing Address:

PO Box 129
Big Bend National Park, TX 79834-0129



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