Weather helps firefighters battle Nevada wildfires

The Carpenter 1 fire burns in the mountains behind the Red Rock Conservation Area visitor center near Las Vegas early in the morning of Thursday, July 11, 2013. The fire has forced the closure of the Red Rock National Conservation Area Scenic Loop. Firefighters in the mountains near Las Vegas hoped Thursday that predicted rain showers and cooler temperatures would help them corral the massive wildfire that for 10 days charred almost 44 square miles and was still just 15 percent contained. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, John Locher)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Wet weather and clouds helped crews increase containment to 43 percent on a wildfire that has burned for 10 days in the mountains northwest of Las Vegas, blowing smoke into the city for several days as it charred almost 44 square miles of steep and rocky terrain near mountain hamlets.

Firefighters prevented the Carpenter 1 fire from damaging more than 400 homes, a rustic hotel and a scenic alpine lodge in the Kyle Canyon area of Mount Charleston. But U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Suzanne Shelp said Friday that the danger was still too great to allow residents who were evacuated last weekend from the Rainbow, Old Town and Echo hamlets to return.

"I wouldn't say (Kyle Canyon) is out of danger," Shelp said. "There's still fire in cliff bands. There's still a threat."

In northern Nevada, mop-up and fire line rehabilitation began on the sprawling Bison Fire in the Pine Nut Mountains near Gardnerville and Carson City. Officials said the fire there was 80 percent contained.

Outside Las Vegas, sporadic light rain helped more than 1,300 firefighters limit the spread of the fire to several hundred acres southeast toward the scenic Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just 17 miles west of the Strip. The 13-mile drive through the area was closed for several hours Thursday.

"The weather helped us yesterday," Shelp said Friday. "The cloud cover and the humidity helped, and we got about a half-inch of rain in Kyle Canyon and the Angel Peak area."

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., was scheduled to tour the fire area on Friday, when temperatures in Las Vegas were expected to be in the 90s, with high humidity and a chance of scattered rain showers.

The forecast in the mountains was for temperatures in the 60s, with thunderstorms likely.

Officials remain concerned about heavy rains causing flash floods and sudden landslides carrying fire-damaged trees and loose soil down steep mountain canyons toward firefighters.

No new structures were lost Thursday, Shelp said, and no new injuries were reported. Clark County officials lifted an advisory about air quality.

The cost of battling the blaze reached about $12 million.

Officials say the fire was sparked by lightning July 1 on the west side of the mountain near Trout Springs. Fire managers hope to have it contained by July 19.

It destroyed a commercial building and five ranch structures Tuesday in the Prospect Springs area, and several firefighters have reported knee and ankle injuries during the firefighting effort. Shelp said just one person, an incident command support worker who suffered heat illness, had to be hospitalized.

Shelp said almost 200 people turned out for a nightly community fire information meeting Thursday at a Las Vegas high school being used as an incident command post and firefighter base camp.

One incident manager, Larry Benham, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the fire was the biggest he'd seen in the area in 45 years.

Prospect Springs Ranch owner Barry Becker told the Review-Journal ( ) that the fire claimed a lodge, a cabin, two sheds and an outhouse on the 40-acre ranch, which sits 6 miles from the nearest paved road. More than 10 other structures, including several cabins, were spared. Seven horses, several peacocks and dogs also survive.

In northern Nevada, residents returned home Thursday to 78 homes after voluntary evacuation of the upper Smith Valley area of Lyon County.

The Bison blaze, sparked by lightning July 4, covered roughly 43 square miles of rugged terrain in Douglas and Lyon counties, and cost almost $5.7 million to fight. One old structure in the Slater Mine area burned.