Small wildfires burn on Mount Charleston, in Red Rock

Two fires in the Red Rock Canyon and on Mount Charleston on Sunday were small and quickly contained.

As wildfires throughout the western United States destroy houses and burn through hundreds of thousands of acres, Nevada has been left relatively untouched. But fire and forestry officials are preparing to quash even the smallest fires quickly to keep them from growing into the kind of wildfires that already have destroyed hundreds of homes in Colorado.

A team of about 30 firefighters worked overnight Sunday to contain a quarter-to-half-acre fire about a half-mile from Fletcher View campground in Kyle Canyon on Mount Charleston. U.S. Forest Service spokesman Ray Johnson said the fire, which started around 8:30 p.m., had been contained by noon Monday and controlled – not totally out, but with no chance of rekindling and growing – about 4:30 p.m.

No injuries or property damage were reported. An investigator is looking into what may have caused the fire.

A human-caused, 11-acre fire started earlier Sunday near Cowboy Trail, across from the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area visitor’s center, but was under control by 10:30 a.m. Monday.

Geoff Wallin, a fire operations specialist for the Bureau of Land Management, said 21 human-caused fires have burned a total of about 40 acres this year in the federal agency’s Southern Nevada District – about average.

Fires can be unpredictable in the district, which extends from the southern tip of Nevada up into part of Nye County. Although summer is the busiest time of year for firefighters, there are no clear trends when it comes to wildfires, Wallin said, nor are there hot spots of activity.

Ironically, precipitation can often create more problems for firefighters by feeding grass growth.

“It just gives it that continuous fuel bed, kind of like carpet,” he said.

But when it comes to higher elevation, such as Mount Charleston, several dry years can add up.

“We’re not fortunetellers, and we can’t really predict,” he said. “The best thing we can do is be prepared.”

If Sunday’s two small incidents had extended into a string of wildfires, Wallin said, officials could have called in more help from the north. And crews from other regional and national organizations such as the Forest Service, the Nevada Division of Forestry and Clark County volunteers helped with Sunday’s fires.

“(Fighting) wild-land fires is a 365-days-a-year job down here,” he said.

From 2001 to 2011, an average of 38 human-caused fires burned 388 acres each year in the BLM’s Southern District, according to data from the Western Great Basin Coordination Center. The worst of those years was 2005, when 57 fires burned through 1,752 acres of BLM land.

Statewide, there was an average of 293 human-caused wildfires from 2001 to 2011, burning an average of 42,970 acres each year.

Southern Nevada has had it easy in comparison to the rest of the state.

About 20 miles northeast of Ely, firefighters were still working Monday to contain the 12,000-acre North Schell fire. It began as a prescribed fire, but by June 17, it had grown out of control, BLM spokesman Chris Hanefeld said. Firefighters had 85 percent of the blaze contained Monday and expect to have it completely under wraps by July 4.

Earlier in June, firefighters put out two other wildfires in the same region: the 6,000-acre White Rock Fire and the 350-acre Barnes Fire in Barnes Canyon.

The human-caused Topaz Ranch Estates Fire in late May near Wellington burned through more than 7,000 acres before it was extinguished, taking two residences and 17 outbuildings.

And Nevada is surrounded by fires. One of the worst wildfires in Colorado’s history, the High Park Fire, has burned through more than 130 square miles and destroyed about 250 homes near Fort Collins. Several other fires are burning throughout the state.

From 15-acre fires to almost 300,000-acre monsters, wildfires in Utah, California, New Mexico and Arizona have burnt homes and triggered evacuations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Kyle Potter at kpotter@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0391.

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