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Erratic 70K-acre wildfire crosses into Nevada; no evacuation plans yet

Updated August 2, 2023 - 8:28 pm

A huge wildfire burning south of Las Vegas crossed into Nevada from California on Sunday, with the sky across the valley at times turning into a soupy haze and the smell of smoke becoming more apparent as the flames were about a dozen miles from Searchlight.

“There’s a large fire down there in the Mojave Preserve and the wind is carrying the smoke up here,” said Brian Planz, a meteorologist with the Las Vegas office of the National Weather Service.

The 70,000-acre York Fire, which is raging in the Mojave National Preserve in California and growing with the help of high winds and dry conditions, made its way into Clark County near Searchlight on Sunday afternoon.

“The York Fire has crossed over into the state of Nevada,” a tweet from the Mojave National Preserve said just before 4 p.m. Sunday. “The fire communication team is working closely with Clark County to provide timely and accurate information to the public.”

Searchlight, with a population of about 445, is roughly 12 miles from the California state line. The fire is also several miles from Nipton, a tiny town of about 25 people in California that is owned by the live entertainment production company Spiegelworld.

In a statement Sunday evening, a county spokesperson said there were no plans to issue evacuation orders for residential areas such as Nipton and Searchlight.

“The fire, at this time, remains some distance from these areas and (Clark County Fire Department) continues to coordinate response and resources with partner agencies and mobile command has been stood up,” county spokeswoman Jennifer Cooper said.

The fire itself was hard to predict in terms of how long it would burn and how big it would grow, according to a National Park Service spokesperson.

“We are at the mercy, right now, of the weather,” said Stephanie Bishop, a public information officer for the park service.

Bishop said the rain that could have happened Sunday afternoon didn’t. Instead, there was more wind. But the obvious hope was for precipitation, which was a possibility in the next few days, forecasters said.

According to the National Weather Service’s forecast for the area encompassing the Mojave National Preserve, the forecast for Sunday night included a 15 percent chance of precipitation. Monday’s forecast called for a higher 60 percent chance of precipitation, while Tuesday’s forecast called for a 70 percent chance of precipitation, said Matt Woods, a meteorologist with the Las Vegas forecast office of the National Weather Service.

Each day’s forecast said winds were expected to be a breezy 5 to 15 miles per hour out of the south, Woods said. That means the winds would be blowing north, but if a thunderstorm happens, the winds could be more unpredictable.

Forecasters also said haze could be expected across Nevada and eastern California for the next few days because of the smoke from the fire.

Bishop also said it was difficult to ascertain what threat the fire could potentially pose to populated areas such as Searchlight or Nipton. Asked if the fire could potentially pose a threat to the Las Vegas Valley, Bishop said that any fire is difficult to predict, but as of Sunday afternoon she didn’t see a threat to Las Vegas, which is roughly 45 to 50 miles north of the fire.

Focus on containment, suppression

The haze and smell of smoke evident Sunday was also visible Saturday in parts of the valley, as the Clark County Division of Air Quality noted a moderate air quality reading in parts of Las Vegas, Henderson and Boulder City.

The fire, which spanned 30,000 acres on Saturday, had grown to 70,000 acres as of Sunday afternoon, according to the National Park Service. The Clark County Fire Department was stationing a mobile command near the Nevada-California state line and is providing resources to combat the blaze, which began in the preserve around noon on Friday near Caruthers Canyon, the county said in a statement.

In an update posted Sunday afternoon on InciWeb, an incident information management system, the National Park Service said the fire was 0 percent contained and fire crews had seen 20-foot flames in some areas of the park as the weather spurred the fire’s growth.

“The focus today is on containment and suppression efforts, this is critical to limit the fire’s spread,” the update read. “The continued use of aircraft will be for fire retardant drops, and water drops to try and assist in slowing down the fire’s progression and allow the ground crews the ability to create containment lines.”

High winds were again fanning the fire’s flames on Sunday, after Saturday’s gusty conditions also created “extremely challenging” firefighting conditions.

Sunday was more of the same, “as winds have begun to pick up and are starting to exacerbate the fire’s behavior,” a 2 p.m. update from the park service said, with winds from the south pushing the fire north.

About 190 firefighters were battling the blaze, Bishop said. Its cause was undetermined as of Sunday afternoon.

The fire was also causing road closures.

The Nevada State Police announced in a tweet just before 3 p.m. that U.S. 95 and State Route 164 were closed in Searchlight because of the hazardous driving conditions caused by the fire. Police said it wasn’t known how long the closure would be in effect.

The Nevada Department of Transportation also said in a tweet that, as of 2:40 p.m. Sunday, State Route 164 was closed in both directions from the Nevada-California state line to U.S. 95 in Searchlight.

The park service also advised people in the area to stay updated on official information and follow safety instructions from local authorities.

Contact Brett Clarkson at bclarkson@reviewjournal.com. Contact Taylor Lane at tlane@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tmflane on Twitter.

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