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Target shooting caused Las Vegas area wildfire, officials say

A wildfire that traveled up through the grasslands of Red Rock Canyon on Monday is expected to be contained by noon Wednesday, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

The BLM said that the Bird Springs fire was caused by target shooting, a common cause of fires that is illegal in Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area. A suspect has not yet been named, according to Shane Kelly, a fire mitigation and education specialist at the bureau.

The fire was first reported before noon on Memorial Day and is located near the Late Night trailhead along Route 160, west of Las Vegas. According to the BLM, there have been no injuries or damaged structures.

More than 80 percent of wildfires in the area are caused by human activity, according to Kelly, who called this number “pretty high.” He urged the public to “be cautious when you’re out in the public lands.”

An estimated 150 acres of land have been impacted by the fire, which reached 70 percent containment Tuesday afternoon. “There has been no new activity nor growth on the perimeter of the fire all day,” a BLM spokesperson said.

The region is part of the conservation area and home to the endangered desert tortoise. Emergency vehicles need prior permission before entering desert tortoise habitat. The breed is known to hibernate in burrows for most of the year but is highly active from March to June, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

While wildfires can damage important habitat, they can also limit the spread of invasive species, helping native plant growth. Daniel Lonnquist, an avid hiker who was visiting the canyon Tuesday to photograph flowers, recalled exploring the aftermath of a fire on Mount Charleston more than a decade ago.

“I got to see lots of beautiful flowers and new little plants popping up,” he said. But Kelly explained that this kind of growth “takes a long time to come to fruition.” When a wildfire hits an area with an invasive species problem, he said “sometimes it works out,” and “sometimes it doesn’t.”

Kelly warned that “it’s extra grassy this year” in Red Rock Canyon. Grass is a big source of fuel for wildfires, and with more grass growing, the BLM is expecting a busier season than last year.

Monday’s fire is coming “pretty much on schedule” for Southern Nevada’s fire season, which tends to be earlier than the rest of the state, Kelly added.

No closures were made, though Kelly said the fire likely impacted trails and their surrounding areas.

Tuesday’s windy weather also proved a concern. But it did not stop aircraft from dropping fire retardant on the area, some of which was visible as a red streak on a hilltop east of Mountain Springs.

Kelly said firefighters worked late into Monday night in hopes of containing the fire. But he added that taking a break is important. “Safety is a big priority,” he said. “That’s why they’re not working all night long.”

The terrain the firefighters are working in is rocky, he said. In order to do their job, crew members have to hike over the rocks. At least one vehicle was reported to have a flat tire, according to the BLM.

If the fire is contained on Wednesday, the BLM said firefighters will be able to fully control the burn within the next few days. “We’ll see how it goes,” Kelly said.

Contact Estelle Atkinson at eatkinson@reviewjournal.com.

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