Published Sunday, Aug. 9, 2015 | 6:46 p.m.
Updated Monday, Aug. 10, 2015 | 5:45 p.m.
MOHAVE VALLEY, Ariz. — A continuing fire that has consumed about 7,000 acres of land 120 miles south of Las Vegas in Mohave Valley, Ariz., prompted Clark County officials today to issue an air quality advisory because of smoke from the fire.
Lightning is thought to have started the blaze in the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge around 9:30 a.m. Saturday, officials with the Bureau of Land Management said. Sunday, a state of emergency was declared for Mohave Valley.
While there have been no known injuries, 11 homes have been destroyed by the Willow Fire, the incident command team reported. Other structures such as trailers or sheds might also be damaged but are still being accounted for.
The Topock Lake Rancheros subdivision, the site of all 11 burned homes, remains under evacuation, said Rick Hartigan, a spokesman for the incident management team. Residents will be allowed to return at 10 a.m. Tuesday, the team said.
As of about 10 a.m. today, the incident command team, which took over operations Sunday evening, reported 10 percent containment of the blaze, which was being fueled by dry timber fuels — including salt cedar, mesquite, grass and brush — and the wind. Winds were expected to increase speeds today.
The containment percentage is expected to rise greatly when it is assessed tonight, authorities said during an afternoon informational meeting.
The federal incident command team includes the U.S. Forest Service, BLM, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Arizona State Forestry. The team established a Facebook page to disperse information about the fire.
Around 10:30 a.m., the page posted: "Today’s planned suppression efforts include the improvement of established fire lines and continued structure protection in the evacuated areas. ... Of particular concern is the possible presence of ash pits, dead standing trees and hazardous materials."
Ground and air crews are attacking the blaze, with four hand crews, 16 engines, three helicopters, two bulldozers and two water tenders. The BLM estimates 204 personnel are working the incident, including crews from the Mohave Valley Fire Department, BLM Arizona State Forestry Division and other fire departments in Mohave County.
Mohave County District 5 Supervisor Steven Moss posted on Facebook on Sunday that he had signed on behalf of the county a declaration of emergency.
"This should allow for emergency funding to keep emergency responders in the field and working to contain this fire, which has already resulted in the evacuation of six subdivisions," Moss said in his post.
Steve Reid of Mason, Calif., stood inside a fire station Monday as residents arrived to ask questions about evacuations. Sunday, his 84-year-old mother packed up her belongings, grabbed her dog and spent part of the day at the American Red Cross shelter after the mandatory evacuation of Marina Coves.
“I didn’t think it would affect her that much, but it’s still a little scary,” he said.
About 850 homes were initially evacuated, but as of 11 a.m. today, about 75 homes remain under evacuation, according to Alan Sinclair, incident commander.
The evacuation was lifted for areas including: Tangerine Terrace, Delta City, Marina Coves, Arizona Village and Riverview Terrace. Crews worked overnight on certain areas to ensure damaged structures and burned trees would not pose a risk, Sinclair said.
Some roads remain closed. Maps of the closures are updated on an incident information website Sunday night, the BLM posted on Twitter that the humidity had risen and therefore smoke would settle in the area through Monday morning. But it was expected to pick up again later today.
"With the rise in temperature and the decrease in humidity today, the fire may again become active," the Willow Fire Facebook page posted. "There may be more heavy smoke later in the day."
There's a 20 percent possibility of showers and thunderstorms in the area Tuesday evening, which becomes a 20 to 30 percent chance Wednesday and Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.
If a lightning strike were to cause another fire, the incident command team would support local emergency crews, Sinclair said.
Carl Cerniglia, incident meteorologist, is monitoring humidity and wind from the command center at the Mohave Crossing Event Center.
The heat won't significantly affect the fire, he said, but the possibility of thunderstorms Wednesday is a concern. However, higher humidity levels and rain could help firefighting crews.
About 9 a.m. Monday, the Clark County Department of Air Quality issued an advisory due to smoke from the Willow Fire. Although unhealthy levels of air pollution were not being reported at this time, according to a press release issued by the DAQ, "smoke is made of small particles and other pollutants that can aggravate respiratory diseases." The advisory is in effect through Tuesday.
Air quality officials will continue to monitor conditions and post an alert on the forecast page of the DAQ website if unhealthy levels are reached, according to the release. County residents can also sign up for free air quality forecasts and advisories via email or text message through the Enviroflash service.
The Bullhead City Bee, a local newspaper, said Sunday night that residents in Mohave Valley and Needles were reporting falling ash in their yards, and the Mohave Valley Daily News, another newspaper in town, said authorities were warning that air quality in the tri-state area — which also includes Clark County city Laughlin — is a concern.
The American Red Cross has set up a shelter for those displaced by the fire at Mohave Valley Elementary School, 1419 E. Willow Drive.
The shelter hosted 21 displaced people Sunday night, according to Diana Rodriguez-Beaugrand, a spokeswoman for the organization's Greater Phoenix chapter.
The shelter has 70 cots available but can add more if needed, she said.
The Western Arizona Humane Society is providing shelter for small animals at the school.
About 60 animals have been cared for at the shelter so far, and the owners of the 12 remaining dogs and cats have been identified, according to Mary Hamilton, the shelter operations manager for the Humane Society's Kingman facility.
Large livestock can be taken to the rodeo grounds in nearby Needles, Calif., 1501 San Clemente St. Many residents in nearby communities have also been posting on Facebook that they can shelter animals at their homes, and local businesses such as Doggy Styles were offering to board pets for free.
Other local business, such as the Pioneer Hotel & Gambling Hall, were offering those displaced by the fire a free room. And some places in town are offering a free meal or free drinks to firefighters battling the blaze or those displaced by the fire. The Pizza Hut in Fort Mohave and Casa Serrano in Mohave Valley invite firefighters battling the blaze for a free meal, and Javalina's Coffee Express is giving displaced residents and firefighters a free coffee or smoothie.
The River Fund and BHHS Legacy Foundation were offering on-site assistance at the school for those who were unable to grab medication from their homes, according to Moss and the media. Local nurses were also being recruited to offer assistance on site.
"I'm very impressed with our local community," Moss said in his post.
According to the Daily News, authorities were encouraging residents in the area not to bring physical donations to the shelter site. Instead, those wishing to donate are being directed to the Red Cross' website, where those who donate can specify their gift go toward the Willow Fire Relief. A local organization, the Guardian Foundation, was also collecting donations to help those displaced by the fire, and it appears by social media posts that several local churches were taking food and clothing donations.
Residents throughout the area reported power outages Sunday night, but it was not immediately clear whether the outages were as a precaution or caused by the fire, the Bee reported.