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April 20, 2014

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Mount Charleston wildfire:

There might not be smoke, but there’s still fire

Lee Canyon residents can go home Monday

Image

Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Suzanne Shelp takes photos as a helicopter comes in to pick up a load of water to fight the Mt. Charleston fire Saturday, July 13, 2013.

Updated Saturday, July 13, 2013 | 8:49 p.m.

Mount Charleston Fire - July 13

Kaleb Latimer from Challis Helitack helps direct helicopters to pick up water while working the Mt. Charleston fire Saturday, July 13, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Mount Charleston Wildfire - July 12

Storm clouds hang over Las Vegas on Friday, July 12, 2013. The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood warning that includes Southern Nevada and is in effect until 11 p.m. Launch slideshow »

Officials say the blaze is 60 percent contained and the thick clouds of smoke that have become an ominous part of the Las Vegas skyline have temporarily subsided, but the fire that has scorched 28,000 acres of forest on Mount Charleston continues to burn nearly two weeks after it was sparked by lightning.

Firefighters were returning to the front lines Saturday to attack the blaze after their efforts were slowed Friday by heavy rains and the threat of flash floods.

“There’s no more smoke on the mountain, but that doesn’t mean the fire is out. ... People are still working the line. They’re going to be there for days,” said Madonna Lengerich, spokeswoman for the Great Basin Fire Incident Management Team.

Lengerich said many crews were given a break Friday and pulled out of action, with most of the firefighting efforts focused on maintaining the previous week’s progress.

At a community meeting Saturday evening, incident commander Rich Harvey said crews “had a really good day” battling the blaze, drawing cheers from gathered residents when he announced the fire was 60 percent contained.

“The firefighters have been uphill chasing (the fires) all day long …There were no backwards steps at all. No acreage lost, no perimeter growth, no structures lost,” Harvey said. “They’re pounding the heck out of it. The long and the short of it is we’ve pretty much gotten our (containment) lines where we want them to be, we’ve pretty much knocked the heat out of this thing.”

The biggest news Saturday was the announcement residents of Trout and Lovell canyons can return to their homes beginning at 10 a.m. Sunday morning, while Lee Canyon residents can go home starting Monday at 10 a.m. Police checkpoints will be established on the roads leading into the canyons, and people will need to show a driver’s license or other proof of residency before being allowed access, officials said.

About 30 residents live in Trout and Lovell canyons, compared with the 300 residents who live in Kyle Canyon, the mountain's most populated area. Officials are still developing a plan to get residents back into Kyle Canyon’s housing subdivisions, which could happen later next week.

Rising temperatures during the next several days could lead to flareups, which would send smoke billowing back into the valley and require quick response from firefighters to defend the already-established containment lines.

“As those (fires) pop up that are close enough where if the wind blows it would blow something across the line, we’ve got to go in there and put all of that out,” Lengerich said. “When you have a fire that burned that hot, you’ve got heat everywhere. ... We need to make sure if it pops back up again, it pops up little instead of really big.”

As of midday Saturday, the fire, which covers 27,881 acres, was 45 percent contained with an estimated containment date of July 19.

Even after the blaze is under control, it will continue to burn sporadically within the fire containment boundaries, possibly for several weeks, Lengerich said.

“It will continue to smolder in the heavy fuels for a couple more weeks until there’s enough rain or it just burns out,” she said. “These things are so far interior that they won’t get up enough steam to come across the line.”

With at least another week before the fire is contained, crews will continue to spend extended amounts of time at one of two spike camps set up in Kyle and Lovell canyons. Those camps serve as the main bases for field operations and contain hundreds of firefighters who spend three to four days there at a time before rotating out for a break.

Supplying those crews in the field as well as workers stationed at the command center at Centennial High School, who together number in the thousands, has been an ongoing effort for Megan Timoney, a logistics section chief for the incident command team.

On Saturday, Timoney offered more information on the behind-the-scenes operations that support firefighters in the field.

“We start with supplies, ordering everything from toilet paper to a crew to a (fire engine),” she said. "Everything gets ordered through our supply unit."

Timoney is responsible for organizing the food, supplies and other equipment needed by crews at the camps and the command center, in addition to overseeing the operation’s facilities and security.

Trucks carrying food, shelters and basic supplies such as toilet paper regularly shuttle among the base camps on the mountain and the command center at the high school. At more remote locations, supplies are flown in by helicopter.

Much of the materials, including hoses, clothes, shelters and other tools needed in the field, are provided from a government-run supply warehouse in Prescott, Ariz.

Food, which includes hot meals and sack lunches, is provided by a contracted catering company, Timoney said.

Smaller, miscellaneous items such as lip balm and sunscreen are purchased locally by a incident command buying team, she said.

“Our main job is to support the firefighters,” she said. “It’s very difficult. A lot of times, we place orders and they don’t get here quickly. ... The challenges of this are (determining) what’s happening, what orders are coming in and how quickly we can get things set up.”

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  1. God bless those fighting the fire. I can only imagine the logistical nightmare associated with the effort.

    Thank You, everyone!