Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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National and World

July 9, 2013

Firefighters lose ground to 2 big Nevada wildfires

LAS VEGAS — Two large wildfires raged Tuesday in Nevada, where firefighters worked to gain the upper hand on a mountain blaze near Las Vegas that kept hundreds of people from their homes and another southwest of Reno that jumped in size a day earlier.

Meanwhile, a fire in Southern California destroyed a pair of mountain lodges Monday while a new fire near a rural Arizona community grew to 300 acres within a matter of hours, prompted evacuations and claimed at least one home.

More than 750 firefighters, including 18 elite Hotshot crews, in Nevada were battling the Carpenter 1 Fire some 25 miles northwest of Las Vegas, said Jay Nichols, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area.

Smoke from the 24-square-mile fire created a towering white cloud that stretched northeast, visible from downtown. The Clark County Department of Air Quality issued a health advisory that officials said would remain in effect today through Sunday. 

An influx of firefighters and equipment including bulldozers, seven helicopters, four air tankers and a DC-10 jet fire retardant bomber arrived in the area as crews in Arizona neared containment of a deadly blaze that killed 19 Hotshot firefighters near Yarnell on June 30 and another fast-moving fire in the state erupted farther south.

Pinal County Deputy Chief Steve Henry said the new fire fueled by salt cedar trees along the San Pedro River bed outside the remote community of Kearny had burned a ranch-style home and two other structures. It also threatened the local airport in the town of some 2,000 residents.

Residents of a trailer park were evacuated as a precaution after the fire was reported about 5 p.m. Monday. It was unclear how it started. The Arizona Republic reported (http://bit.ly/170Ocja) the fire had spread across 300 acres by late Monday.

Temperatures in eastern Arizona where the fire sparked were expected to rise just above 100 degrees in the area Tuesday, but possible showers and thunderstorms would help firefighters’ efforts.

Henry said crews were expected to work through the night to make advances on the blaze.

“I don’t think they want to wait on the temperatures picking up in the morning,” Henry said.

The fire in California destroyed two lodges along a mountain road in rural San Diego County, burned at least six other structures and threatened dozens of cabins as it surged to more than 7 square miles in soaring heat that’s expected to return Tuesday.

In northern Nevada, the Bison Fire in the Pine Nut Mountains straddling the Douglas and Lyon county lines nearly doubled in size Monday from a day earlier as it burned through tinder-dry brush, dead trees and pinion-juniper forests. By afternoon the fire was estimated at 17,500 acres, or more than 27 square miles.

The mountain range also stretches into Carson City. Late in the day, fire officials closed popular back-country roads leading from the state capital into the mountains because of the fire’s path.

The blaze broke out July 4 and firefighters initially hoped to have it contained Monday. But those ambitions were dashed Sunday when strong winds fanned the fire into an inferno that pushed to the northeast and created a towering, swirling smoke plume seen for miles.

No homes have been lost, but officials said several old structures burned in the Slater Mine area.

More than 700 firefighters battled winds, low humidity and steep terrain to clear fire breaks through grass, pinion and juniper.

Firefighters lost ground Monday on both of the Nevada fires, which each were about 15 percent contained. Fire managers expecting crews to spend a week on both fire lines.

No injuries were reported in the southern Nevada fire and no structures burned in the fire since it started July 1 on the west side of Mount Charleston near Pahrump and quickly spread east into rugged terrain reachable only on foot. Officials said Monday that some $2.4 million had already been spent fighting the fire.

Mount Charleston is a popular weekend getaway, where summer temperatures can be 15 to 20 degrees cooler than in Las Vegas, which has sizzled in the triple digits for more than 10 days.

More than 400 homes in Trout, Kyle, Lee, Harris Springs and Lovell canyons were evacuated during the weekend, along with a Clark County-run youth correctional camp that houses 98 teenagers at a mountain elevation of almost 8,500 feet above sea level. State highways 156 and 157 were closed into the canyons, and evacuation shelters were set up at schools in Las Vegas and Pahrump.

Crews were also working to protect about 100 non-residential structures including barns, sheds and corrals, Nichols said.

Daytime high temperatures on the mountain were expected to decrease over the next few days after peaking at 90 degrees on Saturday, but firefighters were hampered by gusty winds and humidity levels in the single digits.

The fire, named Carpenter 1, was declared a top priority nationwide due to its size and the value of homes and structures at risk, said Suzanne Shelp, a Forest Service spokeswoman.

“This fire, these last few days and going forward, is going to depend on the weather,” Shelp said.

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