Updated July 2, 2020 - 7:02 pm
The Mahogany Fire near Mount Charleston was about 64 percent contained as of Thursday night, but officials didn’t have an estimate for when it would be extinguished.
“There’s a lot of variables that go into play with full containment,” said Jeremy Kiesling, incident commander trainee for Great Basin Team District 7, which is fighting the wildfire that started Sunday.
The containment on Wednesday went from 10 percent to 40 percent. Kiesling said the blaze was “most likely” caused by an illegal campfire in the woods near the Mahogany Grove campsite. Officials have previously said the fire was likely caused by humans.
“We don’t know who started the fire,” Kiesling said, adding that the investigation could lead to criminal charges.
Officials were notified of the fire when someone reported smoke on Sunday afternoon.
The fire also led to the closure on Thursday morning of Lee Canyon Road at its intersection with Deer Creek Road, also called state Route 158, Kiesling said during a media briefing a few miles south of the road closure. In the distance, helicopters could be seen flying in the canyons, and a patch of pink fire retardant was visible on a hillside, but very little smoke wafted into the air.
Great Basin Team District 7 said in a statement Thursday morning that the road closure “is necessary for firefighter and public safety.” Officials will reevaluate Friday morning if the road will be reopened to the public for the Fourth of July weekend, Kiesling said.
“Fire personnel will be cutting hazardous trees, and helicopters will be doing critical bucket work in the area,” the statement said. “This closure is intended to be temporary and will reopen when it is safe for the public.”
The fire had not grown since Tuesday, and it still covered nearly 2,800 acres, said Great Basin Team District 7 spokesman Kyle Esparza.
A map of the fire released during the news conference showed that there were boundaries to the east and west where the fire was uncontrolled, meaning crews have not been able to clear trees and vegetation to create a barrier. Clearing vegetation in a boundary around the fire is done with the goal of preventing it from spreading, Kiesling said.
“This is steep and rough terrain in here, so it’s slow going,” he said.
As of Thursday, about 420 people were working to put out the fire, including six helicopters. There are minimal water sources on the mountain, but helicopter crews are able to get water from a pond near the Lee Canyon ski lodge.
Officials also are concerned about a few spot fires that are outside the boundary to the east of the main fire. Spot fires can range anywhere from 1 inch to an entire acre, Esparza said.
To prevent spread of the coronavirus, fire crews are working with face masks, sanitizing equipment and staying with their crews, which are about 20 people each. Most of the people working to put out the fire are staying at camps in the Mount Charleston area and are not going into towns, Kiesling said.
Two firefighters have required medical attention during the fire — one for a spider bite and another for dehydration, he said.
The fire on Sunday started at about 20 acres and grew to 500 acres within two hours.
“It grew exponentially after that,” Kiesling said, adding that it was difficult to get an accurate measure of the fire on Sunday because helicopters could not fly in the high winds with 60 mph gusts.
The Great Basin Team District 7 said in a statement Thursday there was “minimal fire activity” overnight and that crews were still working around the entire boundary of the fire.
“Windy conditions are expected, which may cause more smoke as interior portions of the fire continue to burn,” the statement said.
Kiesling said that if anyone plans to visit the Mount Charleston area during the holiday weekend, they should check fire restrictions and never leave a campfire unattended.
“They need to keep water around and fire extinguishers,” he said.