Wind in forecast raises fears after Nevada fire burns homes

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Another lashing of strong winds expected in northern Nevada raised concerns Wednesday about reviving a wildfire that roared through a neighborhood in Reno in similar weather a day earlier, destroying at least five houses, damaging 15 other structures and forcing people to flee from hundreds of homes.

A separate fire about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south and across the border in California exploded in whipping winds Tuesday, killing one person and burning an unknown number of homes in a small community.

Both blazes got help from rain that moved in overnight, but the new forecast raised fresh fears in Reno.

“We’re looking at 40 mph (64 kph) winds in the valleys again today, 70 mph (112 kph) over the ridgetops, so that will be a concern for us,” Fire Department incident commander Mark Winkelman said.

Two firefighters were injured while battling the blaze over 2 square miles (5 square kilometers) but have been treated and released. One suffered an allergic reaction, and the other tore a calf muscle helping evacuate residents from up to 500 homes threatened Tuesday in southwest Reno.

Extremely dry conditions helped fuel the blaze in rugged, hard-to-reach canyons that run between homes in the densely populated neighborhood, Reno Fire Chief David Cochran said.

“Even though there was literally snow on the ground in some areas, a wind-driven fire like that is almost impossible to stop,” Cochran said.

Nevada is experiencing drought, with much of it in extreme drought, and has moved in and out of such dry conditions for years. Numerous studies have linked bigger wildfires in America to climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas, which has made parts of the U.S. West much drier and more flammable.

Investigators from the state and Reno fire marshal’s office as well as the utility NV Energy were trying to find the cause of the fire.

Winkelman said it started about 200 yards (183 meters) from the origin point of a November 2011 fire that destroyed 27 homes. That blaze was started by arcing power lines at a substation in strong winds, he said.

On Tuesday, the wind made it impossible to send up aircraft to help fight the flames, with support from local and federal agencies in northern Nevada and neighboring California becoming critical before wet weather moved in later, Winkelman said.

“It takes a village, as it were, to put out something like this. No one fire department can ever be staffed or equipped to handle something like this,” said Cochran, the fire chief.

Crews have dug lines around about 5% of the perimeter of the fire and anticipated to have it fully contained by Friday.

Authorities said they hoped to allow evacuees to return to their homes later in the day. Several roads remained closed.

Power had been restored to all but about 400 homes after NV Energy cut power to about 7,000 customers as a precaution.

Soon after the fire broke out Tuesday afternoon, Anita Noble sprayed down a hillside with a garden hose near her daughter’s home, telling KOLO-TV that she “could have been the one to save my daughter’s house and the neighbor’s house.”

“We were about ready to leave, and I saw a bunch of smoke, and my daughter said it was coming from up in the canyon, and it wasn’t, it was right below the ravine,” Noble said. “And it was within 10 yards from her property line, so I got the hose and I started spraying. And it helped.”

Gov. Steve Sisolak declared a state of emergency late Tuesday.

The other fire across the border in California’s remote Mono County grew to more than 32 square miles (84 square kilometers) Tuesday, burning into the tiny community of Walker before wet weather moved in. One person died and an undetermined number of buildings were destroyed.

The Mono County Sheriff’s Office announced the death on Facebook but gave no details. The post said the sheriff's office didn't know of any other significant injuries, and no one was reported missing.

Authorities said they were assessing the damage — with some homes believed to be burned — and that it could be days before residents can return. Travel through the area remained halted.

“It did rain all night; the fire looks to be pretty much out,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Sarah Roberts said.

Rain and snow were expected to continue through Wednesday, and the winds had calmed down.

“The winds were horrific yesterday,” Roberts said.


Davenport reported from Phoenix. Associated Press writer John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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