Firefighters, Weather Could Help Keep Wildfires From Nevada Town

Firefighters, Weather Could Help Keep Wildfires From Nevada Town

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LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Buoyed by favorable weather, firefighters vowed to stop two huge wildfires from reaching the southern Nevada railroad town of Caliente, 10 miles away.

"Conditions are ideal for combatting the fire," said David Chevalier, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman for the Mesquite and South Desert fires, which were about four miles apart and burning toward Caliente. "It's being aggressively confronted," Chevalier said Wednesday.

Fire officials assured residents at a Tuesday night meeting at the Caliente town hall that some 961 firefighters using shovels, bulldozers, aircraft and a natural barrier of green, wet mountain terrain could prevent the blazes from reaching the community of about 1,100 residents.

"It's not going to get here," Forest Service incident commander Tom Suwyn said.

About a dozen fires were sparked by lightning on June 22 and burned through vast stretches of desert tortoise habitat. Some of the blazes merged and other new fires were discovered Tuesday, Chevalier said, including one in the Delamar Mountains, home to a population of bighorn sheep.

The fire zone covered more than 400,000 acres, with as much as half burned and half unscathed. Fire spokeswoman Kathy Jo Pollock said incident commanders were trying Wednesday to gauge the extent of the burn area.

Officials said the fires were zigzagging through brittle desert grasses, mesquite, Joshua trees and mountain pines.

Some areas were spared. Chevalier said firefighters hunkered down to defend the railroad switching enclave of Elgin, about 20 miles south of Caliente, but the fire parted "like the ocean hitting a barrier reef."

"It circumvented the town, and nothing was burned," he said. "It kept burning into the mountains."

Containment was estimated at about 6 percent, with no structures burned. One corner of the fire area stretched into southwest Utah.

Chevalier said federal firefighters from states including California, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming hoped to have the fires contained by the weekend, if forecasts of calm winds hold up. They were being aided by six air tankers and seven helicopters.

Some firefighters reported seeing federally protected desert tortoises alive in burned areas.

Dehydration was a problem for some firefighters, Chevalier said, but no new serious injuries were reported Wednesday. One firefighter suffered a broken ankle earlier in the week, and a smokejumper suffered a hip injury last week parachuting into the area.

The cost of fighting the fires on federal Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service land topped $3.1 million on Tuesday, Chevalier said. No new estimate was available Wednesday.

A separate fire around Goodsprings, south of Las Vegas, was declared 95 percent contained Wednesday after burning 33,500 acres of desert and rugged mountains.

About 140 firefighters remained on the fire lines, said Cynthia Sage, a U.S. Forest Service fire information officers.

The fire about 10 miles southwest of Las Vegas was also sparked by lightning on June 22. No serious injuries were reported and no structures were damaged.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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