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Firefighters battle Nevada blazes

Crews endured triple-digit temperatures Sunday in their battle against two wildfires in southern Nevada.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Firefighters endured triple-digit temperatures Sunday in their battle against two wildfires in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge in southern Nevada.

A 21,120-acre fire centered on the Sheep Mountains about 50 miles north of Las Vegas was 50 percent contained, with full containment expected Tuesday, fire information officer Hillerie Patton said.

No containment estimate was available for a 2,500-acre blaze around Gass Peak about four miles north of Las Vegas, which was visible from the city. Winds caused the Gass Peak blaze to “kind of blow up on us,” Patton said.

Firefighters were sweating it out as daytime highs reached 104 to 106 in southern Nevada.

“When you’re out fighting a fire in heavy clothing, the heat would definitely be uncomfortable,” Patton said. “But that won’t stop us from doing what we have to do.”

The fires threatened endangered species habitat, Patton said, adding the 1.5-million-plus-acre refuge is home to both desert bighorn sheep and the desert tortoise. The refuge, established in 1936, is one of the largest intact blocks of desert bighorn sheep habitat in the Southwest and the largest national wildlife refuge in the mainland U.S.

Elsewhere, the two biggest wildfires of the year in northern Nevada were at or near containment Sunday.

The 79,858-acre Suzie fire near Elko was 90 percent contained and the 10,400-acre Sneekee fire was fully contained Sunday morning, fire information officer Bud Ivey said.

Firefighting costs were estimated at $1.8 million for the Suzie fire and $950,000 for the Sneekee fire.

Meanwhile, fire crews were fighting three blazes in southwest Utah, which by Sunday had consumed 24,477 acres of cheatgrass, Pinion and Juniper trees about 25 miles northwest of St. George. A voluntary evacuation order for the small town of Gunlock was lifted Sunday, after thunderstorms passed and winds shifted, forcing the fire away from the community of about 80 homes.

Lightning over the past four days has resulted in 76 new fire starts near the border of Utah and the portion of Arizona known as the Arizona strip. Most have been quickly contained.

In Arizona, about 200 employees have returned to Grand Canyon National Park in anticipation of Monday’s opening of the park’s North Rim after a wildfire shut down the only paved highway leading into the area.

Most of the employees of lodges, campgrounds and the National Park Service were escorted out of the North Rim on Wednesday, a day after hundreds of tourists were guided out of the area.

The blaze, discovered June 8 in the Kaibab National Forest, was about 25 miles from the North Rim and wasn’t burning in Grand Canyon National Park. The fire has burned 58,630 acres and is expected to be contained Tuesday.

No major injuries have been reported and no structures have been burned in any of the fires.