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October 31, 2014

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As Mount Charleston wildfire anniversary approaches, worries about more damage take root

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Sam Morris

BLM fire management officer Mike Haydon speaks during a news conference to highlight the dangers of climate change and its effects on the Spring Mountains Tuesday, June 24, 2014.

Climate Change and Mt. Charleston

BLM fire management officer Mike Haydon speaks during a news conference to highlight the dangers of climate change and its effects on the Spring Mountains Tuesday, June 24, 2014. Launch slideshow »

Nearly a year ago, a lightning strike sparked one of the largest wildfires in Mount Charleston’s history.

For more than a week, flames feasted on the area's dry needles, trees and brush, while ash sprinkled on homes in nearby northern Las Vegas. More than 1,300 firefighters from across the western United States were needed to fight the blaze. By the end, the fire dubbed Carpenter 1 had consumed 27,881 acres.

It was considered a once-in-a-generation fire, but it may only be the start, according to a group of wildfire experts, local residents and elected officials who gathered Tuesday at The Resort on Mount Charleston.

“This is as serious as a heart attack,” said Launce Rake, conservation activist and moderator of the event. “It is a direct threat to life and property, and that’s why we need to take this situation very seriously.”

Nearly 20 residents met to discuss the threat climate change poses to the mountain. Behind the speaker’s podium, scars from the fire were still visible on the mountainside.

Fire prevention officer Mike Haydon from the Bureau of Land Management said a long-term drought and early spring snow melt have left the trees drier than they’ve ever been, putting the mountain in danger of more fires. In the West, large wildfires are happening more often.

Although nothing can stop a lightning strike on a tree, Haydon urged people to think twice before tossing a cigarette butt, starting a campfire or dumping hot coals, all of which could lead to a major wildfire. Already, Haydon said, humans have accounted for nearly 40 fires this year on BLM property in Southern Nevada.

Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said people need to protect the mountain.

“This jewel is extremely at risk due to Carpenter 1,” Giunchigliani said. “If we do not have a healthy forest, we can’t take out the CO2.”

Climate change has affected the valley as well. Levon James Budding said he’s seen more cases of heatstroke at the Marquee Dayclub, where he works as an in-house promotion manager, because of the hotter weather. He also noticed more people struggling to breathe because of the air quality.

Sierra Club member Teresa Crawford said it’s time elected officials work together to stop climate change.

None of this was news to Las Vegas resident Laura Eisenberg. She has seen the impact firsthand, working for the Division of Forestry as an urban planner. She has watched nature be replaced with construction. She's seen trees die on Mount Charleston because of the changing climate.

“If you’ve been around listening and noticing, there’s nothing new in this,” Eisenberg said. “It’s just a reiteration for people.”

It’s not just in Las Vegas, Shirley Schludecker said. She attended the meeting not only because she’s concerned about the mountain, but because her daughter lost her home to a wildfire in Colorado Springs, Colo.

While looking at the brown-green mountainside after the meeting, Schludecker recalled how much the mountain has changed in the past 30 years. It used to be greener, she said, and snowdrifts would be chest-deep, even in June.

Then there were the flowers, the yellows and purples and blues that would dot the mountainside. Climate change has left the mountain bone dry, she said.

“It was just a lot more," she said.

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