RENO — While armies of firefighters battle wildland blazes across much of the West, federal crews are watching from the sidelines as a 12-day-old wildfire burns unchecked in a remote wilderness area in northeast Nevada.
With no immediate threat to people or property, the Forest Service has let nature have its way as the lightning-sparked fire crackles its way through five square miles of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest’s Jarbidge Wilderness Area along the Nevada-Idaho line.
Agency officials continue to monitor the fire 15 miles from Jarbidge and will step in to fight it if any danger arises, said Linda Slater, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service.
Fire officials were counting on rain or snow to extinguish the fire in early fall.
The fire has burned 3,245 acres primarily in an area dominated by brush and dead trees. The vast wilderness area, home to the threatened bull trout, covers a total of about 195 square miles. The fire is burning within about a 9-square-mile area that has been closed to public entry near the 10,184-foot God’s Pocket Peak.
Dot Creechly, owner of the Outdoor Inn in Jarbidge, said the smoke was “pretty heavy” Tuesday evening but the skies were mostly clear Wednesday morning.
She said she’s not necessarily sold on the idea of letting the fire burn but was glad Forest Service officials were keeping residents updated on its status.
She said an agency official was due in town again later Wednesday.
“It’s quite a ways to the east of us. Last year we got evacuated. That wasn’t any fun. So they are keeping us informed,” said Creechly, who has owned the inn in the old mining town for 39 years.
“They told us it started by lightning so they considered it a managed burn and they told us if it went out of the wilderness area they would fight it,” she said. “We don’t control what they do, but I hate to see stuff burn.”
Environmentalists generally remain supportive of the policy even in cases where protected species are involved, such as the bull trout.
“When you have a natural event like this, it is beneficial,” said John McCarthy, Idaho forest campaign director for The Wilderness Society in Boise, Idaho.
“These fish have evolved in these systems. Bull trout actually benefit from fires, even high intensity fires, as long as there is connectivity so the fish can move out of an area if it gets too hot before or after a fire,” he said.