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September 30, 2009
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Wind whips wildfire

Howling winds fanned the flames of a small wildfire that broke out in the forest behind MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa on Tuesday morning, but firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze before it burned more than an acre.

Around 10:25 a.m., dispatchers received a report of smoke east of Upper Lake Parkway Drive, about a half mile from the casino corridor, Douglas County Sheriff's Sgt. Jim Halsey said in a statement.

Firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service, Nevada Division of Forestry, East Fork Fire and Paramedic District, Tahoe -Douglas Fire Protection District, CalFire and the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department responded to the wildfire, which was extinguished around 11:45 a.m., Halsey said.

A U.S. Forest Service helicopter aided in the response by dropping two buckets of water on the blaze and monitoring the fire's spread from the air, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Cheva Heck.

The Forest Service stationed the helicopter at the Lake Tahoe Airport early Tuesday morning after the National Weather Service in Reno issued a Red Flag Warning for Lake Tahoe and surrounding areas.

The weather service issued the warning in response to high winds and low humidity, conditions that contribute to the spread of a wildfire.

Gusts of up to 44 mph were reported at the nearby Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course on Tuesday, according to the weather service.

Because of Tuesday's weather conditions, firefighters were concerned the fire could get out of control, Heck said.

Tuesday's wind sent embers from the main fire airborne and caused small spot fires to start about a quarter mile from the fire, Heck said.

Although the fire wasn't in the immediate area of homes, members of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office responded to the vicinity to assist with possible evacuations. None were needed, Halsey said.

The U.S. Forest Service coordinated the initial response to the incident, but the fire was determined to have started in the Nevada portion of Van Sickle Bi-State Park. The investigation into the fire's cause is being handled by the Nevada Department of Public Safety.

The fire appears to have started in a homeless encampment that was burned by the fire, said Lt. Mike Dyzak, with the State Fire Marshal Division. The exact ignition source isn't known, Dyzak said.

Investigators have received tips regarding who may be responsible for the fire and the investigation is ongoing, Dyzak said.

As the smoke cleared from Tuesday's fire, dispatchers continued to receive reports of a fire further up the mountain toward Heavenly Mountain Resort.

Investigators determined the reports were caused by the vapor created by tests of Heavenly Mountain Resort's snowmaking system, Heck said.

Several surrounding land-management agencies lifted summer fire restrictions on Sept. 25, but Tuesday's fire was exactly the reason why the U.S. Forest Service's Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit has yet to do so, Heck said.

"Fire season is not over," Heck said.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Sep 30, 2009 02:21AM Published Sep 30, 2009 02:18AM Copyright 2009 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.