Night had fallen July 1 as firefighters tried to contain the Cathedral Fire, which was threatening the edge of the Rainbow subdivision, a small enclave of cabins and houses in Kyle Canyon.
Trees were going up in flames as the blaze got within a hundred feet.
"It sounded just like a steam engine," Las Vegas police Sgt. Eric Fricker said this week.
Still, some folks were relatively unperturbed.
One woman approached the fire line with an unleashed dog.
"I said, 'You're supposed to evacuate. And put that dog on a leash,' " Fricker said. "She said, 'I will. But I want to ask the fireman a question.'
"We had 100 firemen on the line and people walking around -- not in the way, but they weren't evacuating."
The Cathedral Fire was contained to 20 acres and did not damage any structures.
Nor did two other fires that burned through parts of the canyon in recent years.
While that's good, there's also concern that the mix of luck and rapid response that has kept the flames at bay might be fueling a sense of complacency about the danger posed by wildfires.
"There was enough potential that everyone should've been concerned," said Ray Johnson, fire prevention officer for the U.S. Forest Service.
In a tour of the burned area, he noted not only how close the blaze came to the Rainbow subdivision but also that the fire was within 150 yards of Lundy Elementary School.
Fricker was more blunt: "We really got lucky."
The fire "almost triangulated between Cathedral, Old Town and Rainbow," he said. "The only place that fire could've gone and not burned anything is south. The fire cooperated. It's amazing that we didn't have more of a problem."
When it comes to Kyle Canyon, everything about emergency response is a problem.
There's one way in and one way out.
It's not hooked up to the 911 emergency system, so calls get forwarded to a nonemergency line.
They need better maps, Fricker said, and even then the roads are curvy and hard to navigate unless you're very familiar with them.
And the communities contain a mix of full- and part-time residents, making it difficult to keep track of who might or might not be there.
There's a push on to connect the canyon to 911, and volunteers are helping with some of the other concerns. A group in the Rainbow subdivision earlier scheduled a July 10 mock evacuation to test their training, only to be faced with the real thing July 1 before they could practice.
The keys are mostly communication and coordination, said Adrienne Richardson, site coordinator for the Metropolitan Police Department's volunteer program for her neighborhood. Also important is getting volunteers who are available and ready to help.
It took less than an hour to evacuate the Cathedral and Old Town areas, she said, an improvement over a 2008 evacuation call when a plane crash in the canyon started a fire.
"It took two hours to evacuate those people because there was no coordination," Richardson said.
Steps have been taken to make some areas easier to defend from fires. The Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act and the U.S. Forest Service put up $8.2 million to thin or remove vegetation to create buffers of 300 to 600 feet around private property, roads and facilities.
Besides Mount Charleston, the project includes Deer Creek, Cold Creek, Trout Canyon, Mountain Springs and Torino Ranch.
Even with those efforts, it's still a matter of when fires start, not if, said Cap D'Amato, another Rainbow resident.
"There's nothing you can do about fires because you have stupid campers," he said. "All you can do is take care of your environment as best you can and hope someone doesn't do something stupid."
Investigators suspect the Cathedral Fire started as an illegal campfire.
In 2004, the Robber's Fire -- near the Robber's Roost trail -- started from a truck wreck, burned 1,500 acres and threatened the Mount Charleston Hotel.
Though fortune played its part in the Cathedral Fire -- after all, five traffic officers happened to be on patrol that day and were on hand to help -- the level of coordination and training gives Fricker confidence.
Next comes a trickier subject: Evacuating residents, a subject that probably is going to be discussed at length in the fire's aftermath.
Evacuations are usually voluntary, Fricker said, and only the governor can order a mandatory evacuation.
"Now we've had three big fires up here where residents all lucked out," he said. The latest blaze "was a wake-up call, but I don't think the majority of the residents understand that when the fire department says they should evacuate, they should evacuate."
For the Cathedral Fire, an estimated 70 percent of the canyon's 1,100 residents left under the voluntary evacuation order, and the roads into Kyle Canyon were closed.
For Richardson, the decision to leave would be relatively straightforward.
"I would rather that my house burn down and they save all the trees," she said. "My house can be rebuilt. It takes hundreds of years to replace trees."
But it's not just houses. People have pets and horses that they wouldn't want to abandon, a scenario that is possible if roads are closed and residents aren't allowed in.
On the other hand is the simple pragmatism of being able to escape in an area where fire could quickly make it impossible to do so.
"I don't want us to be the training video for what not to do," Fricker said.
Contact reporter Alan Choate at email@example.com or 702-229-6435.