Monday, Aug. 21, 2000 | 11:21 a.m.
An urban wildfire Sunday in a Clark County park scorched 37 acres of a nature preserve before jumping a 10-foot wall and burning an acre of brush on the property of entertainer Wayne Newton. The fire also burned 11 acres adjacent to the park that are believed to be owned by Newton.
The fire at the 130-acre Sunset Nature Trails section of the 310-acre Sunset Park, broke out about 1:30 p.m., sending flames 20 feet into the air along with a thick plume of smoke that could be seen throughout the Las Vegas Valley.
No one was in the trail area at the time, according to Leslie Mihalko, spokeswoman for the County Parks and Recreation Department.
The nature preserve is habitat for coyotes, jack rabbits and wild birds, officials said. After one of the driest summers in the past 10 years with scant rainfall since February, the mesquite and sage on the property provided plenty of fuel for the blaze, which took two hours to bring under control.
"There was a huge amount of fireload," Clark County Assistant Fire Chief Joe Planck said.
The fire jumped a 10-foot wall onto Newton's property about 3 p.m. and was quickly stopped, Planck said. But embers in Newton's yard reignited about 11 p.m. and then again at 2 a.m. among brush at the back of the property.
Newton and his family were in Boston for a performance. The entertainer did not hear about the fire until he came off stage, spokeswoman Tricia McCrone said. A decision was quickly made for Newton and his family to return to Las Vegas in his private plane.
Newton's animals -- Arabian horses, wallabees, peacocks, penguins, swans, African crown cranes, flamingos and an assortment of dogs and cats -- were moved to safety.
"Everybody on the staff rallied to make sure the animals were safe," McCrone said.
A fire engine and crew were at Newton's Casa de Shenandoah this morning keeping an eye for additional flareups. Firefighters were concerned because of the horse manure and hay on the property.
"Once (fire) gets into that kind of organic material, it can smolder," County Fire Department spokesman Steve La-Sky said.
Gawkers created gridlock along Sunset Road Sunday that delayed county firefighters' initial response to the park fire by about 15 to 20 minutes, La-Sky said. Bystanders lined Sunset Road watching the fire and were scattered only when it started moving their way.
Callers jammed 911 lines as well.
About 100 firefighters and 20 pieces of equipment battled the fire through the afternoon and battled flareups through the night. County crews were joined by those from the Henderson Fire Department, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.
Fire crews used a "surround and drown" strategy, La-Sky said, circling the fire and pouring streams of water onto it from ladders above and special trucks.
The smoke plume was spotted by pilots landing at McCarran International Airport. No flights were interrupted due to the fire.
The fire did not reach any structures. It came within 200 feet of an office building still under construction on Sunset Road, but no damage was done.
The cause of the park fire was still under investigation this morning, La-Sky said, though fire investigators said they suspected a homeless person may have been somehow involved. No one in particular had been identified, and no suspects were in custody, he said.
The 130-acre nature park held one of the largest groves of natural mesquite left in Clark County, Mihalko said. The county Parks and Recreation Department as of this morning planned to allow the area to re-establish itself.
The parks department does not have a plan for fighting urban wildland fires such as the Sunset Park blaze, Department Director Glenn Trowbridge said.
"We've not put together a formal plan," Trowbridge said late Sunday. "We have so few places like this with all the urban development."
With the Desert Wetlands Park under construction in the Las Vegas Wash, Trowbridge said the parks department may write a formal firefighting plan together with the fire department.
Trowbridge said he will prepare a full report on Sunday's fire for the Clark County Commission.