Wildfire in remote Nevada range burns 27 square miles

Reno, Nev. (AP) A wildfire burning more than 27 square miles in a remote northern Nevada mountain range was threatening prime habitat for sage grouse and mule deer, fire officials said.

The blaze that began Wednesday was burning on the south slope of the Augusta Range about 70 miles northeast of Fallon and 130 miles northeast of Reno, said Helen Frazier, spokeswoman for the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center.

No homes were threatened, and no injuries were reported.

"We do want people to be careful,'' Frazier said. "It looks like it's shaping up to be a busier fire season than the last few years because of dryness and a lack of moisture.''

With cooler temperatures and lighter winds Friday, crews reported progress as the blaze was 50 percent contained. No estimate for full containment was immediately offered.

Frazier said the fire was threatening habitat for the imperiled sage grouse. The bird is found in 11 states from Washington to South Dakota, but now occupies only 56 percent of its historical range.

In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined sage grouse deserved federal protection, but other species were higher priorities. A recent legal settlement now gives the agency until 2015 to decide the bird's status-threatened or endangered or not in need of federal protection.

Frazier said the area is so remote and lacking in roads that it has been a challenge getting firefighters to the scene. More than 175 firefighters were battling the blaze, with help from three helicopters.

The fire primarily was burning invasive, highly combustible cheatgrass in the same area where a wildfire occurred about a decade ago, she added. It also was burning some pinyon-juniper woodlands on higher slopes.

The fire was fanned by high winds after it broke out Wednesday near the Hole-in-the-Wall area. It has blackened land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The cause of the blaze is under investigation.

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