The Devils of Big Bend National Park

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The dry and rainless weather in West Texas has spelled disaster for the region. 

Firefighters have been keeping busy battling grass fires left and right, including Los Diablos fire crew, a team based out of Big Bend National Park. 

Unlike regular fire crews in the U.S., there’s a distinct difference: these 40 plus men are Mexican nationals. 

Gerardo Ureste has been a part of Los Diablos since its creation in 1990. 

He along with the other men are part of a program put together by the national park. 

This program allows residents of small Mexican towns near the border to respond to emergencies in the park. 

“We come here and help people when they need us to, you know, protect their houses,” said Ureste. 

Eight years after the creation of the group, the park saw a need for Los Diablos to be sent off to California to help with wildfires. 

John Morlock, a Former Fire Management Officer for Big Bend National Park, worked alongside the crew for more than 12 years. 

Morlock says the fires in California prompted the park to seek approval for Los Diablos to respond to fires and emergencies across the country. 

In 1999, the proposal was taken all the way to the Capitol, where it was then approved. 

Since then, Morlock says the crew has traveled to 18 states in the U.S. and helped during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017. 

More recently, the crew has helped fight the McDannald Fires in Jeff Davis County that have burned nearly 20,000 acres. 

“Once the emergency is over with, they go home and return to their families and return to their normal lives,” said Morlock. 

In order to be a part of the fire crew, Morlock says they have to go through a year-process that includes: obtaining a passport, getting a drivers license, and meeting the entry and work requirements in the United States. 

After that, members of the crew must renew their cards yearly. 

Fire crew members we spoke to say they’re fortunate to have this opportunity. 

In Mexico, Ureste says he works for the tourist department in his small town. 

Being able to make money with the park has made life easier for Ureste and his family. 

“Over there (in Mexico), we have to work a lot to make some money. They don’t pay us much there,” said Ureste. 

That opportunity, according to Crew Boss Jesus Bonicichi, pushes every member of the team to give his all. 

“This is their livelihood and every assignment they get, they’re happy to go out and do their best,” said Bonicichi. 

Jesus Quintella is another crew member that’s worked for the park since 1997. 

In Quintella’s small town, he works on a ranch but is grateful for the income he gets from this part time job. 

“I enjoy combating fires a lot. To me it seems good to be helping too. To help the park, the United States, and wherever they call us,” said Quintella. 

For Big Bend, the crew is a necessity to maintain safety in the park. 

“They’re the closest resources we have outside our one fire engine. To be able to have 40 men and women show up to go on line and fight the fire directly within a couple of hours response is totally necessary,” said Morlock. 

As for the name, crew members tell us it came to be when they told park officials that they would fight fires like “devils”. 

It’s that same mindset that crew members Uresta and Quintella say will carry them until retirement. 

Both men say they are determined to work until their legs and knees give out. 

Los Diablos are about to see new additions to the team. 

Officials say they’re adding eight more members sometime this year, many of them being related to current members. 

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