Late Thursday night, SpaceX unleashed an experimental rocket ship called Starhopper for the first time – but the start caused more fiery excitement than anyone had anticipated.
Starhopper is a test bed for a much larger launch system called Starship, which the company is developing to send people to the Moon and Mars. SpaceX builds and tests the vehicle near a small, secluded beach community called Boca Chica on the southern tip of Texas.
Company founder Elon Musk welcomed the test flight, where the rocket rose to about 20 meters early Friday morning, as a success. He also made fun of the simple design of the vehicle.
Flaming debris spread by Starhoppers powerful rocket motor sparked brushfire almost immediately near the launch pad.
Rescue teams used a fire truck and other tools to control the flames over the next few hours. Despite their efforts, part of the fire spread to the nearby Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area.
"After our first successful Starship prototype hop, a bushfire occurred, and the SpaceX team is working with the Brownsville Fire Department to tackle the incident, which is well under control," said a SpaceX spokesperson for Business Insider on Friday morning in an email with. "As always, precautions have been taken to ensure public safety, and nearby residents are well out of the previously established security zone."
& # 39; not yet wiped out & # 39;
Maria Pointer, who lives within 2 miles of SpaceX's launch site, said she had gone to bed after the excitement of the launch, but woke up around 1 am on Friday morning to the smell of fire. The fire department assured her that the fire was contained in the wetlands, Pointer said.
"But I woke up at 3:00 am and the hotspots jumped out of the wetlands in Las Palomas," she said, referring to a section of the wildlife sanctuary that sits between SpaceX's launch pad and pointer & # 39; 39; s property runs.
Fire engines appeared in the late morning. A live broadcast of the area showed that the biggest fires had been burned or extinguished at 13:30. CT (14:30 ET).
The Brownsville Fire Department did not immediately return Business Insider's requests for comments on the incident.
According to Bryan Winton, manager of the National Wildlife Sanctuary of the Lower Rio Grande Valley at the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the fire has blazed over 100 acres and is "still not extinguished" in the late afternoon. But Winton said emergency officials "make sure it does not damage any life or property."
He also noted that although Las Palomas is full of bird species, the threat to wildlife from fire is low.
"We are beyond the breeding season, so it will probably not hurt anymore," he said.
The reason why the fire is still uninfluenced is the area's poor soil conditions, Winton said. Fire engines do not come so easily to the flames.
"You could ride this type of ground and it's okay, and next you know you're sinking on your axles," Winton said. "There is really no other way to handle it than to prevent it from getting out of hand."
Water spray backpacks and other such equipment could help firefighters in the future "relatively inaccessible and unforgiving", he added.
A Plan Change
 An Environmental Impact Assessment of SpaceX launch plans, signed by the Federal Aviation Administration in July 2014, investigated the risk of brush fire from rocket launches in the region.
"Launcher activities have minimal impact on vegetation from potential fires and fires are unlikely as launcher activities would take place on concrete slabs without surrounding vegetation," reads Volume 1 of the report.
The FAA is reportedly working with SpaceX to evaluate possible changes to this agreement as the company deviated from the plan it originally set for the area.
The original plan was to launch commercial Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy rockets from a rugged spaceport in South Texas about once a month. Instead, SpaceX is transforming the site into a kind of skunkhouse to develop the upcoming Starship launch system.
Musk said, SpaceX will try to launch Starhopper in about 200 meters in a week or two.
A recent conclusion from Winton's recent bushfire is that it will be more difficult to launch a similar fire for another launch, as much dry material has already been burned. The fire may also encourage SpaceX and government agencies to re-examine local fire safety procedures.
"I'm sure we'll have more discussion and how we can best deal with it in the future," Winton said.