A wildfire burned more than 680 acres and at least 15 buildings Thursday in Moapa, including the Warm Springs Ranch once owned by Howard Hughes.
The fire, which started about 10 a.m., burned palm trees and vegetation at the ranch about 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
By 9 p.m., firefighters battling the blaze from the ground and air had it under control, but 10 homes were destroyed while the inferno ripped through the small community, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management said.
The fire's casualties included the "Big House," also known as the Warm Springs Ranch, according to the ranch's website.
Howard Hughes bought the ranch in 1968 after the eccentric billionaire saw the Warm Springs area during a test flight, according to the ranch's website.
Two years after Hughes' death in 1976, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bought the property. After unsuccessful stints as a cattle operation and a welfare farm, the 75-acre ranch became a recreational area for Mormons. It had a bath house, a spring-fed swimming pool and several campsites.
All of the facilities appear to have been destroyed, according to the ranch's website. Two missionaries were on the property at the time, and they quickly escaped. The three missionary couples who care for the property lost all of their belongings in the blaze, the website said.
Neighbors think the blaze was started by a work crew trimming dead palm fronds off palm trees to reduce the fire danger, but authorities have not yet named the cause of the fire.
The firefighting effort included 20 fire engines, an air tanker and fire crews from the Nevada Division of Forestry, Clark County and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Three more planes and a helicopter were en route to join the effort Thursday afternoon, said Bob Conrad of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Moapa resident Jonathan Blackwell, who watched the gusts blow flames back and forth across state Route 168, said three retired couples were left homeless when their homes were destroyed.
Despite the toll, Blackwell said his spirits were lifted by outpouring of support from residents in nearby communities, including Overton and Logandale, who offered their homes and anything else to help those in need.
"It's just a big community," he said.
Bill Parson lost a barn that housed horses and rural equipment on his 7-acre property, but no animals or people were injured.
"We're far more fortunate than some of our neighbors," the 53-year-old said.
The blaze spread to his property from more than 1,000 acres of tumbleweed-choked land he said was owned by the Southern Nevada Water Authority. The area was burning when sparks lit a manure pile on Parson's land. Wind stoked the pile and spread to his barn.
Parson said he is not angry about the fire. He said he is upset because the land in Moapa used to be better-managed. Cattle, goats and people used to cull the land of its dense vegetation and non-native species. Those efforts no longer exist because of the large numbers of federal and county bureaucracies involved in the area, he said.
"We're not doing anything that helps work with nature to control the fuel load," he said.
If those efforts do not take place, "We will see this again in seven or eight years."
At the nearby Moapa National Wildlife Refuge about 200 yards south of the Warm Springs Ranch, wildlife officials worried that smoldering palm fronds would fall into the spring areas and affect the habitat in the Muddy River, home to a tiny, endangered fish, the Moapa dace.
"Right now it's not affecting the refuge because it's across the street and the wind is blowing away from the refuge," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Daniel Balduini.
"There is concern," he said Thursday afternoon. "We know the dace populate the Muddy River. We don't know how many are there, but we know they're there, and there's some concern for habitat."
The refuge was established in 1979 to protect the dace.
In 1994, a fire thought to have been caused by a discarded cigarette engulfed a strand of 300 palm trees that lined the refuge stream and spring pools. The dace population was nearly wiped out after ashes and smoldering palm fronds fell in the water, raising its temperature beyond the normal 90 degrees. Oxygen levels decreased, and all but 30 of an estimated 1,000 juvenile and adult dace in a 250-yard stretch of the refuge died.
Biologists over the years tried to improve the habitat and removed many palm trees. The Moapa dace population rebounded, with biologists in 2007 counting more than 1,170 in the waters on and around the refuge. But in 2008, the population plummeted to 459 and then rebounded slightly last year to 508.
Review-Journal reporters Lawrence Mower and Antonio Planas contributed to this report. Contact reporter Brian Haynes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0281. Contact reporter Keith Rogers at email@example.com or 702-383-0308.