A massive 245-hectare fire near the town of Moapa, Nev., did $2.5 million worth of property damage in July and destroyed the Warm Springs Oasis, home to the little-known moapa dace (Moapa coriacea), an endangered fish that lives in the springs. But despite fears to the contrary, the fish were able to get out alive, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reported.

The fish have the hard work of a lot of people to thank for their survival. As I reported in 2009, employees at the Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuge , which is run by FWS, have spent the last couple of years cleaning nearby rivers and expanding the habitat for the tiny, temperature-sensitive fish. Those newly cleaned rivers provided the fish with an exit from their regular habitat when it was being devastated by the fire.

"The dace in the region of the fire scrambled upstream to fresh water," says Dan Balduini, FWS spokesperson for southern Nevada. "The fire did destroy their habitat, but they were able to easily reach clear water where they are still within the refuge boundaries." Balduini called this "a testament to the restoration work so many people have been working on for the last few years."

In even better news a count of the fish conducted on August 17 and 18 revealed 697 moapa dace, up nearly a third from the 460 fish at the beginning of 2009. This count marks the highest number since 2007, when their population crashed from 1,200. Still, it is nowhere near the highest tally of more than 3,800 in 1994.

Clark County fire officials believe the blaze started when dry brush being cleared from the Southern Nevada Water Authority building in Moapa was ignited by a vehicle's hot engine. The fire raged for four days before it could be extinguished. Ironically, water, managed by the authority, is of critical need in the growing area. A new lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity over commercial and public use of the water that feeds the moapa dace's habitat was filed on Monday.

The Moapa Valley refuge holds the only population of moapa dace in the world. The fish has been protected as an endangered species since 1967, predating the Endangered Species Act by six years.

Image: Moapa dace, courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service