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December 17, 2014

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Ranch owner had hoped fire would miss his Mount Charleston retreat; it didn’t

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Martin Fritz / Courtesy Photo

Photos of Prospect Spring Ranch taken by former caretaker Martin Fritz in December, 2011.

Updated Wednesday, July 10, 2013 | 5:25 p.m.

Prospect Spring Ranch

Photos of Prospect Spring Ranch taken by former caretaker Martin Fritz in December, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Night Shift on Mount Charleston

Barely visible firefighters work the perimeter of the Mount Charleston fire, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Mount Charleston Wildfire Tour

Smoke from the Carpenter 1 wildfire is shown from Kyle Canyon Road on the way up to Mount Charleston Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Mount Charleston Fire - July 8

Rod Collins, an operation section chief for the National Incident Management Team briefs the night shift firefighters before they head out to the Carpenter 1 wildfire from Centennial High School on Monday, July 8, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Public meetings now scheduled daily

  • Agencies fighting the Mount Charleston wildfire have decided to conduct daily meetings to update the more than 500 evacuees chased from their homes on the mountain. The meetings will be at 5:30 p.m. at the Centennial High School auditorium. The school, 10200 W. Centennial Pkwy., is serving as an incident command center for the federal, state and local agencies fighting the fire.

Barry Becker looked forward to the weekends, when he’d drive up to Prospect Springs Ranch and unwind.

As owner of the 40-acre mountainside pad, the 68-year-old businessman visited the ranch every Saturday to make sure the place looked nice. He took tabs on his stock of toilet paper, kept a count of the paddleboats tethered to the lakeside dock.

“Then I liked to smoke a cigar and relax,” said Becker, who has been restless since he learned the Mount Charleston wildfire destroyed much of his rustic retreat.

A phone call early Wednesday morning let him know the fire had ravaged at least five of the buildings on his ranch: two storage sheds, a cabin, an outhouse and his lodge.

They weren't the first buildings lost to the now 10-day-old wildfire, which has engulfed nearly 40 square miles on Mount Charleston; that designation belonged to a commercial outbuilding that was engulfed Tuesday afternoon.

But the buildings on the ranch, about five miles southeast of housing developments in Kyle Canyon, included the first residential housing destroyed.

Since the fire erupted July 1 on the mountain, Becker’s good friend, who lives in one of the property’s cabins and refused to evacuate, called twice a day with updates. Though they were aware of the dangers of forest fires, the men never thought they’d find one in their own backyard.

“We were hoping it would skirt north or go around us,” Becker said. “It didn’t.”

Built in 2004, Prospect Springs Ranch has been a getaway for a group of about 16 families, all friends of Becker, who owns Las Vegas-based Becker Gaming. If a family wanted the ranch for a weekend, they’d just have to make a reservation.

Towering juniper and pinyon pine dot the land between the cabins and lodge. Several horses grazed the property. To Becker, the ranch was a calming escape.

“It used to be so very green,” Becker told the Sun Wednesday afternoon, just before driving up to the ranch to assess the damages to the environment. “It might be black now.”

Inside the lodge visitors once found the mounted heads of elk and moose, tokens from past hunting trips. There was a kitchen, large dining room and recreation room, anchored by a pool table. Becker’s brother-in-law restored and installed too large potbelly stoves to maintain the rural feel.

A fireplace at each end of the lodge lighted many gatherings in the winter months.

“It was like a little private resort,” said Becker, who did not comment on whether the property was insured.

Martin Fritz, a former caretaker at the ranch, said the property was “really, really nice.”

The fire, which began with a lightning strike on July 1, has now brushed into Bureau of Land Management properties in two locations: near Prospect Ranch and north of Kyle Canyon Road, said James Stone, public information officer for the National Incident Management Team.

The Mount Charleston forecast Wednesday afternoon called for a high near 82 and west winds from 7 to 13 mph. While that might sound ideal for those in the Las Vegas Valley who have suffered through triple-digit high temperatures for weeks, “the weather is continuing to be not good for firefighting," Stone said.

Relative humidity is low on the mountain, adding to the extremely dry conditions. The relative humidity was expected to be 12-15 percent Wednesday, up from 9-12 percent Tuesday.

"We'll take every one of those percentage points we can get," Stone said.

Rain could be on the way.

The National Weather Service Wednesday afternoon issued a flash flood watch for the Spring Mountains, from 8 a.m. Thursday through 5 a.m. Friday.

“There’s a 50 percent chance for rain in the mountains, 30 percent in the valley,” said NWS meteorologist Ryan Metzger.

While rainfall would be welcomed in figting the blaze, Metzger noted the downside of a thunderstorm unleashing itself over the burn area: the possibility of flash flooding and mudslides in areas burned clean of ground-hugging vegetation, or of erratic winds quickly driving the fire in unexpected directions.

Stone said there are highly mobile firefighter teams tasked with responding to any new fires sparked by lightning strikes.

The fire continued to grow overnight Tuesday. As of 6 a.m. Wednesday, it was estimated to cover 25,524 acres, or nearly 40 square miles.

The number of people involved in battling the fire, including firefighters and support staff, is now 1,077, up from 803 on Tuesday. The total includes 24 firefighting crews – 12 specially trained hotshot teams and 12 Type II teams. They are backed up by 10 helicopters, 51 engines, two bulldozers and 15 water tanker trucks.

A portable retardant base has been ordered to make it easier for air resources to get retardant to the mountain.

"It's a tool," Stone said. "Apparently the aerial resource people thought they would be more efficient if they had a portable retardant base."

Officials said firefighters on Wednesday were building containment lines across Kyle Canyon Road. Hotshot crews were strengthening containment lines on the west side of the fire, above Lee Spring. On the north side of the fire, by Rainbow Subdivision, crews were working to strengthen the fire edge near Cathedral Rock.

Meanwhile, officials said, strategic burnout operations will continue in Lovell Canyon, moving to the northeast.

Fire managers are optimistic about containing the eastern fire edge and further securing the Prospect and Harris Ranch areas of the blaze.

The cost of the 10-day firefighting effort stood at $6.27 million as of Tuesday night, Stone said.

Total containment of the wildfire remains at 10 percent.

The wildfire received mention Wednesday morning on the U.S. Senate floor by Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"My thoughts are with those who have been evacuated from their homes in southern Nevada’s Mount Charleston area, where the Carpenter I fire has burned more than 30 square miles of forest and desert. My thanks go out to the dedicated first responders who acted quickly to protect lives and assist in the evacuation. And my heart is with all the brave firefighters, who have been working around the clock to contain the blaze and protect their communities," Reid told his colleagues.

Meanwhile, the public continues to lend support to those affected by the fire and those fighting the blaze.

For example, Cannery Casino Resorts has opened 40 hotel rooms to house some of the 520 Kyle Canyon residents displaced by the fire. The Red Cross continues to assist those evacuees, too.

Members of the public are dropping off water and food for firefighters at the fire command center at Centennial School, so much in fact officials say they can no longer accept the donations. Instead, they're asking people wanting to help to make a donation either to the Red Cross or to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, which assists families of fallen wildland firefighters.

Staff members Rebecca Clifford-Cruz, John Taylor and Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.

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  1. What sad news to go along with the beautiful pictures of the cabin. I hope everyone is safe and secure and out of harms way.

    Let's all do a rain dance and hope this ends soon!

  2. Compelling comments on the mounted heads of elk and moose. Was this a museum for dead animals?