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August 30, 2014

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Mount Charleston wildfire:

Residents are returning home, but there’s plenty of work left for fire crews

People who live in Kyle Canyon will be allowed back Wednesday morning

Image

Steve Marcus

Carpenter 1 Fire PIO Jon Kohn talks to reporters about the Mount Charleston wildfire during a briefing at Centennial High School Sunday, July 14, 2013.

Updated Sunday, July 14, 2013 | 6:55 p.m.

July 14: Mount Charleston Fire

Thank you posters are displayed on an information board at Centennial High School Sunday, July 14, 2013. Launch slideshow »

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 »

With most residents returning to their homes, massive smoke plumes disappearing and some firefighters returning home, it's becoming more and more apparent that the 28,000-acre wildfire that has burned on Mount Charleston for the past two weeks is coming to a close.

And with Sunday's announcement that residents of Lee Canyon will be allowed back home Monday morning, coming on the heels of Trout and Lovell Canyon residents returning home Sunday, it might appear that the danger has passed.

Not so fast, fire officials said. Although fire crews are making progress, several problematic borders remain uncontained, and there are possible hot spots and areas where the fire could restart, Fire Information Officer Jon Kohn said.

Also, although crews are beginning to demobilize, dropping the number of firefighters and support service workers from a peak of 1,300, crews could continue to work on the fire past the estimated containment date of July 19.

"Half the work of the fire comes after the flames go out," he said.

One of the problem areas is near the northwest side of the blaze, where fire progress was stopped by a steep cliff that fire officials have dubbed "goat rocks" — areas on the cliff where it's difficult for firefighters to establish containment lines because of the steep terrain. Because there's "less than a remote chance" of the fire spreading past the cliff, residents of Kyle Canyon, who remain evacuated, could return home with fire still raging, Kohn said.

"We very well may be able to let people safely back home and assure their safety while fire still remains uncontained on the top of the ridge line," he said.

Progress continues to be made on the fire, which was 70 percent contained as of Sunday. No additional acreage has burned during the past few days, the fire's growth potential has been downgraded and several trails in the Red Rock National Park area were reopened Sunday.

Fire officials said Highway 158 is likely to open Thursday night or Friday morning and that they hope to have the mountain open to the public by the end of the week.

Kyle Canyon, which remains under evacuation orders, is the area's largest subdivision with close to 300 residents. Fire officials said residents will be allowed to return at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

And with the bulk of the actual firefighting done, crews will now work on mopping up stubborn patches of fire and ensuring areas of burned ground are secure and can't reignite, Kohn said.

Some of the dangers facing firefighters in the upcoming days include excess heat and transporting crews and engines through Las Vegas traffic, Safety Officer Rod Bloms said.

Although the risk from the fire has increased because of the extreme weather and treacherous terrain, Bloms said all of the firefighters, from rookies to veterans with up to 45 fire seasons under their belt, are prepared for whatever comes their way.

"It is a hazard, but at the same time, it's what we train for," he said.

Fire personnel in the field, such as Central Lyon County Fire District firefighter Charlie Bowman, said the 30 pounds of fire equipment that he wears helps ensure not only his safety but the safety of other firefighters.

"This is what keeps me safe. This is what keeps everybody out there safe," he said. "If I can't keep myself safe, somebody else could get in an unsafe situation trying to help me."

One responder has been injured fighting the wildfire, Kohn said. The crew member suffered from dehydration and was taken back to a station.

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