Published Thursday, July 11, 2013 | 12:37 p.m.
Updated Thursday, July 11, 2013 | 8:45 p.m.
Firefighters battling the wildfire on Mount Charleston have been praying for rain. On Thursday, they got it.
Containment on the massive fire increased to 43 percent Thursday evening, marking significant progress in subduing the 11-day-old blaze. Officials said rain, increased humidity and cloud cover helped firefighters suppress portions of the fire, which continues to pose problems in the difficult mountain terrain.
Fire officials initially announced the fire was 25 percent contained at a late-afternoon community meeting at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area Visitor's Center, but later announced the bump in containment. The fire grew to nearly 28,000 acres Thursday, with 1,386 personnel responding to the blaze. Crews should be able to secure most of the southern perimeter over the next few days, officials said.
On Friday, firefighters plan to continue mopping up the contained areas of the fire, and to look for areas to curb the fire's growth near the cliffs by Kyle Canyon Road.
Heavy rain fell in the western section of the fire Thursday near the Spring Mountains, while other fire areas reported light rain, according to the National Weather Service. Jon Kohn, a spokesman for the Great Basin Incident Management Team, highlighted progress by firefighters near Harris Springs and the Red Rock National Conservation Area.
Weather service officials did not have a measurement of rainfall on Mount Charleston, but a Regional Flood Control District gauge showed .04 inches at Grapevine Springs, near Kyle Canyon Road at the base of the mountain.
Officials said Thursday night that 6,000 feet of power lines were destroyed in the fire. Phone service is expected to be out for several days, but water, electricity and Internet service should continue to be available for most residents.
The topic of weather was hard to avoid during Thursday’s morning briefing at Centennial High School, as thunder rumbled in the distance and a light rain drizzled from an overcast sky.
Firefighters have struggled to contain the wildfire, stoked by dry, hot windy conditions. One firefighter whistled when it was announced the wildfire had expanded to nearly 44 square miles.
The fire charred 2,000 acres overnight, having now blacked nearly 28,000 acres since it started on July 1.
The fire has burned six structures — a residential lodge and cabin at Prospect Springs Ranch among them — and reached the Red Rock National Conservation Area. But it is still several miles from the Visitor’s Center, which will remain open, Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Hilarie Patton said.
Incident Commander Rich Harvey said Wednesday night that the rain could loosen rocks and boulders and send them down the mountain.
“Stuff can really come tumbling off the hillside,” he said. “Rocks and firefighters are a lousy combination. We like to sit on them and have lunch on them. But we don’t like to dodge them.”
The rain can also make walking more treacherous. Already, one firefighter has hurt an ankle and another has twisted a knee, Harvey said.
“Add into that wet and slippery and it just gets more difficult out there,” he said.
If all goes well, a slow, steady rain could dampen the flames and give crews a chance to reach areas that, so far, have been too hot to get into, fire behavior analyst Nick Yturri said Thursday.
A fast downpour, on the other hand, would have little impact. At the very least, Yturri said, the clouds and humidity projected at 40 to 50 percent could slow the fire’s growth.
“Even if we do get a little bit of rain, it’s not the end game here,” Yturri said. “You’ve got a lot of heavy fuels out there. This is a stalling event.”
The fire has crept uncomfortably close to homes and businesses on the mountain.
An executive with the company that operates the Resort on Mount Charleston said Thursday that “we’re scared, we’re nervous, we’re upset” about reports that the fire had crept dangerously close to the resort.
“We never really imagined anything like this,” said Michael Crandall, senior vice president of the Siegel Group.
Crandall said July was an extremely busy time of year for the resort, drawing weddings nearly every weekend along with such other events as family reunions and corporate retreats. He said the fire had forced cancellation of 15 events.
“That’s not to mention daily room business from locals in Las Vegas who like to get away to Mount Charleston for a couple of nights because it’s always 20 degrees cooler on the mountain than it is on the Strip,” he said.
Even if the resort escapes fire and smoke damage, Crandall said, it would take a week to reopen it. That being the case, the fire has already taken a significant toll on the operation.
“That’s how we survive up there is through our events and catering business,” he said.
Another community meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Friday at a yet to be determined location in Pahrump.