‘Extremely powerful’ winds propel blaze
RENO, Nev. – Firefighters were able to stop the progress of a fast-moving brush fire near Reno Thursday, but not before the wall of flames burned several homes and forced about 10,000 people to evacuate their neighborhoods.
Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez said more than 230 firefighters were battling the blaze, which was still uncontained and had grown to nearly 6 square miles late Thursday. It was eerily similar to another unusual winter fire that destroyed 30 homes in southwest Reno two months ago.
“Several” homes had been destroyed before nightfall Thursday, Hernandez said. He said he didn’t know the exact number but told reporters “the news is not good.”
There were no immediate reports of any deaths or injuries.
A Reno television station reported at least 10 homes had burned since the fire of unknown origin broke out shortly after noon along U.S. Highway 395.
Washoe County officials declared a state of emergency, and Gov. Brian Sandoval followed with a statewide declaration.
By nightfall, the fire had burned to the city’s southern outskirts. Flames were visible 10 miles away in the downtown casino district.
“It’s moving at a very fast rate,” Washoe County sheriff’s Deputy Armando Avina said. “The winds are extremely powerful in this area.”
Winds that had gusted to 82 mph died down after nightfall and rain started falling, much to the delight of fire crews.
The flames were stopped at Galena High School, where Vice President Joe Biden spoke Thursday before the fire forced him to leave early.
Meanwhile, about 300 students were evacuated from Pleasant Valley Elementary School, and deputies went door to door asking people to leave their homes in Pleasant Valley, Old Washoe Valley and Saint James Village, Avina said.
KRNV-TV reported that 10 homes had burned.
Firefighters were concentrating on using crews and trucks to protect homes in the path of the flames, Hernandez said.
He estimated firefighters had saved about 1,000 structures and said another 80 to 120 firefighters were expected to arrive to help before midnight.
“To say we are in the thick of battle is an understatement,” he told reporters.