Washoe deputies campfire investigated in blaze

Three off-duty Washoe County sheriffs' deputies are under investigation for improperly extinguishing an illegal campfire that led to a 10,400-acre brushfire in Humboldt County.

The blaze was controlled on Tuesday after burning through the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout Natural Area about 75 miles northwest of Winnemucca, killing more than 400 of the threatened fish.

The deputies were camping near Mahogany Creek and had a campfire despite a BLM burn prohibition, Washoe County Undersheriff Dianne Nicholson told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

They thought they had extinguished the fire before leaving to scout for deer, but later noticed a plume of smoke coming from their campsite.

''They went back and tried to put it out,'' Nicholson said. ''As it was getting more out of control they went for help.''

The fire also destroyed almost 10 miles of spawning habitat, which is the only self-sustaining population of the trout in the United States that's not augmented by hatcheries.

''It burned very hot and took out all of the riparian vegetation and removed all of the shade trees,'' said Arn Berglund, fisheries biologist for the Bureau of Land Management. ''We may see a decline in survival and a drop in the number of fish that come back down to the lake.''

The fish died in the superheated water and suffocated from the debris that clogged their gills, Berglund said.

Firefighters attacked the blaze with air tankers, helicopters, engines and hand crews after it broke out Sept. 8 and had it under control by Wednesday, five days after it began.

The deputies, whose names have not been released, each received warning citations from the BLM, which is considering billing them for the suppression and rehabilitation costs.

Nicholson said the Sheriff's Office was unaware of the deputies' involvement in the fire until a reporter's phone call Friday morning. The deputies were not due to return from their camping outing until Sunday.

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