Youth camp residents return to mountain after fire evacuation

Wearing white T-shirts and light-colored jeans, they listened to a teacher on a recent afternoon.

But they were not in a classroom or wearing school uniforms.

The group of adolescents had been moved to the Clark County Juvenile Detention Center after being evacuated from Spring Mountain Youth Camp on Mount Charleston.

“It doesn’t feel the same,” a 15-year-old boy from Las Vegas said. “You get more freedom (at the camp). Here you get a little room.”

He and 96 others were evacuated from the youth camp July 4 when the Carpenter 1 Fire began to threaten the area. The fire, which began July 1 from a lightning strike, has now consumed nearly 28,000 acres and is 95 percent contained. Officials expect full containment by Aug. 18.

The youths moved back into the camp on Wednesday after nearly two weeks of temporary housing. Spring Mountain Youth Camp is located between Lee and Kyle canyons.

The camp houses adolescents from 14 to just under 18 years old facing charges ranging from probation violation to robbery and assault, Family Court Judge William Voy said.

When adolescents are arrested, they are placed at the Juvenile Detention Center as they process through the courts, said Charla Vieira, juvenile probation supervisor at Spring Mountain Youth Camp. Voy then decides their next move.

They can be sent home on probation, to a group home, to one of two other juvenile state facilities or to Spring Mountain Youth Camp, she said.

When the fire forced an evacuation, one bus, three vans and five suburbans transported the youths from the camp to the detention center, Vieira said.

“It feels like starting over,” the 15-year-old said of being back at the detention center during the evacuation.

He faces charges stemming from graffiti.

Most of the displaced youths — 67 of them — were moved to two units, each with 24 rooms, that were shut down at the Juvenile Detention Center in 2009, Voy said.

Those on a weekend pass to visit their parents at the time of the evacuation — 26 juveniles — were granted an extended pass, Vieira said. An additional four minors were placed at the Spring Mountain Residential Center because, while they were home on a weekend pass, they did not have 24-hour parental supervision.

The camp is more like a boarding school than a detention center.

On the mountain, the adolescents go outside, participate in structured activities, play school sports and even have paid forestry jobs.

The 15-year-old, who had been at the camp for two months, has a forestry job building steps on trails.

And that’s what he missed the most.

“It feels good working for your money,” he said.

If he completes the program, he’ll get paid $1,200.

About 10 years ago, when the camp also had to be evacuated because of a fire, about 100 adolescents had to be housed at the Juvenile Detention Center’s gym because there was no other space available.

“Last time it was just a mess,” said Michael Whelihan, manager at Spring Mountain Youth Camp. “We’ve done it before; from experience you kind of learn.”

A lot more work might be waiting for them as they return. Whelihan said he’s been approached to see if the juveniles would be able to help with fire cleanup.

“There’s going to be a lot of it,” he said.

Contact Yesenia Amaro at yamaro@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440.

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