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Crews have Great Basin National Park fire about 30 percent contained

A growing team of firefighters is making progress against a wildfire that has burned a campground and closed portions of Great Basin National Park, 300 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

The Strawberry Fire grew by about 100 acres on Thursday, but crews had the lightning-sparked blaze about 30 percent contained by Friday morning.

A large air tanker and more firefighters were expected to arrive Friday, joining a team that already included 365 people, four helicopters, nine engines and a bulldozer.

Their mission will be to protect “critical power line infrastructure” in the area and keep the fire away from the Wheeler Peak scenic drive and campground and sensitive habitat used by sage grouse and Bonneville cutthroat trout, according to a statement from the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Strawberry Fire, Great Basing National Park,  Nevada (Gabriel Utasi/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

The blaze has already burned through the Strawberry Creek Campground, where just last fall the Park Service installed a new corral, picnic tables, restrooms and fire pits.

“We won’t know how much of it can be salvaged until it’s safe for us to go back in there,” said Nichole Andler, chief of interpretation for the park.

Park staff members made a brief visit to the burned campground Thursday. Their photos, posted on the park’s Facebook page, show Strawberry Creek winding through a moonscape of gray ash and charred, leafless trees.

Adler said it could take years for that area to recover.

“It evokes an emotional response,” she said of seeing the damaged campground. “Fire is so dramatic.”

Officials from the Park Service and the BLM planned to host a community meeting in the town of Baker, about 5 miles west of the fire, at 6 p.m. Friday to update area residents on the operation.

David and Karen Last of Eagle Mountain, Utah, were camped at nearby Sacramento Pass on Monday when they noticed a column of smoke in the direction of the national park. David Last said his wife climbed to the top of a nearby hill to call 911 at about 10:30 a.m.

Over the next five hours, they watched as the small plume exploded into a mushroom cloud several thousand acres wide.

The fire has since burned across the national park boundary onto BLM land about 3 miles northwest of the park’s visitor center in Baker.

As a precaution, the Park Service has closed the Wheeler Peak Campground and the scenic drive above the Lower Lehman Campground.

Lehman Caves and the campgrounds at Baker Creek, Grey Cliffs and Lower Lehman remain open.

Adler said fire officials hope to have the blaze fully contained by next Friday.

Full containment is expected Sunday evening for another lightning-sparked fire at the northern edge of White Pine County, about 175 miles northwest of Great Basin National Park.

The Overland Fire, also reported Monday, had consumed about 7,700 acres but was 80 percent contained as of Friday evening.

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

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