Covered in more than a week’s worth of dirt and soot, firefighter Eric Levy took a moment to relax.
Nearby, his fellow crew members pored over their equipment as the Monday afternoon sun beat down on the asphalt. Some sharpened their axes, some wiped down their towering green trucks. One took the opportunity to light a long, thin cigar in the shade.
After nearly two weeks straight of battling the Carpenter 1 Fire, Levy and his fellow Roosevelt Hot Shots were finally heading home.
“It’s nice,” Levy said as he brushed his thick dirt-filled mustache.
He and the rest of the Roosevelt Hot Shots out of Fort Collins, Colo., were heading home after 12 straight 16-hour days of attacking the fire that had ravaged the Spring Mountains since a July 1 lightning strike near Trout Canyon.
For Levy, getting off the mountain means he can do what many people take for granted on a daily basis.
“It’s been 14 days without a shower,” said Levy, who is looking forward to shaving the forest of beard he’s grown in the past two weeks. “You get used to it.”
The incident command team began pulling crews off the fire line Monday after they had managed to contain 80 percent of the 27,881-acre blaze.
Some crews, such as the Roosevelt Hot Shots, get to go home for two days before jumping on another blaze somewhere in the United States. Others though, such as the Vegas Valley Type II team based out of nearby Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area, still have nine days left on their tour.
“We have no idea where we’re going tomorrow,” Vegas Valley crew member Aaron Morgan said.
Two days is all the crews get between 14 straight days of work or travel. Those two days become a time to get away and relax.
“Some guys like to fish, or just hang out in a hammock,” Levy said. “We put the relax in ‘R and R.’ ”
For the firefighters going home, they leave Las Vegas on a triumphant note.
“It always feels better if you can seal the deal on something,” Levy said.
Crews expect to contain roughly 90 percent of the fire by Wednesday, Fire Information Officer Jon Kohn said. The other 10 percent, which lies in the “goat rock” of Mazie Canyon, will be left to burn itself out.
“It’ll be 100 percent contained from our perspective,” a fire official said.
According to Fire Operation Specialist Chad Olson, the ridge top of the area falls onto a 45 to 50 percent slope followed by cliffs that are 50 to 100 feet high.
“We’re not putting anyone up there,” he said.
Incident Commander Jay Burtec and his Type III team will monitor the open fire as it burns itself out. He will manage a large organization of engines, crews and helicopters, Kohn said.
Strategic Operations Planner Corky Conover estimated there was less than a 5 percent chance of the fire spreading down from the cliffs.
About 30 residents of Trout and Lovell canyons returned home Sunday after they were evacuated July 4 because of the growing fire.
“All went well and is going well,” Olson said about evacuees returning home.
Lee Canyon residents, employees and business owners began returning home Monday morning, Clark County spokesman Erik Pappa said.
Residents were required to show proof of residency, such as a driver’s license or utility bill, to authorities stationed at the checkpoint. Employers must provide Las Vegas police with a list of employee names so their workers can return to the canyon.
Access to state Route 158, which connects state routes 156 and 157, remained closed to residents, and Lee Canyon was still closed to the public.
Fire officials said Kyle Canyon residents should be allowed to return Wednesday with public access to all Mount Charleston areas reopening at 8 a.m. Friday.
Community information meetings will no longer be held. People can call 702-799-4610 through Wednesday night with fire-related questions.
A different information phone number will be provided by Thursday when fire crews move their command center out of Centennial High School. The new location was not immediately known.
Because of the fire’s intensity, the burned area would remain a low wildfire hazard for the next 50 to 100 years, Conover said. So far, fighting the blaze has cost $15.4 million. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay 75 percent of the eligible firefighting costs.