Firestorm hammers Carson City
Staff and wire reports
CARSON CITY – An explosive wildfire possibly started by teenagers who had a party in the woods burned out of control in stiffening winds into Thursday night, destroying at least 20 homes and forcing evacuations of hundreds of others.
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More than 1,000 homes were considered threatened as of Thursday night, with more than 7,100 acres burned, according to Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center, which has coordinated the firefighting efforts. CBS News reported the total acres burned at more than 10,000.
An Associated Press reporter told the Tahoe Daily Tribune that Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong is questioning as many as 20 teenagers regarding the fire that started in Kings Canyon within an area where youths are known to gather, set bonfires, drink alcohol and party.
As of press time Thursday, mandatory evacuation was called at the Silver Oaks subdivision, located west of the Silver Oaks Golf Course and to the east of Lakeview near Highway 395. Mandatory evacuations also remain in effect for Timberline, Lakeview and Franktown areas.
Containment is not expected for at least two days, fire officials said.
The fire was reported about 3 a.m. Wednesday near the waterfall in Kings Canyon. Since flaring up midday Wednesday, it has moved northwest of Carson City into deep canyons dotted with multi-million dollar homes.
Sagebrush-covered slopes like C-Hill west of town burned over in a matter of hours Wednesday evening, leaving flickering hot spots and flaming electrical poles in the night sky.
By Thursday afternoon, erratic winds continued to fuel flames, sending plumes of smoke upward and back toward the fire’s origin, choking much of Carson City. Flames were said to be 100 feet high.
Authorities say at least 900 personnel are fighting the fire. They are being aided by seven air tankers and 10 helicopters to battle the “type 1” classified fire. During the initial effort, one firefighter broke a leg, another suffered back and neck injuries and two others suffered burns, according to fire spokeswoman Christie Kalkowski of the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center. One of the burned firefighters was with a crew trapped briefly when the rapidly moving blaze leapfrogged their position and destroyed their fire engine. There have been no life-threatening injuries.
“I’ve never seen a fire as bad as this fire. I’ve never seen behavior as bad as this fire,” said Assistant Carson City Fire Chief Stacey Giomi, a firefighter for 24 years.
“It’s probably going to hit 10,000 acres,” state Forester Pete Anderson said about the fire.
Gov. Kenny Guinn said the fire hazard made it imperative for federal officials to quickly complete examinations of heavy air tankers recently grounded in nearby Minden. Once cleared to fly, he said those planes would be just minutes away. The big tankers fighting the fire flew in from distant locations to try to save homes and businesses.
“Your heart goes out to them,” Guinn said of the fire victims. But he added “it’s good news and it’s bad news” because firefighters, unable to save some homes, were able to keep the blaze from several hundred other homes and businesses.
“It’s absolute devastation up there,” Sheriff Furlong said Thursday after driving through a burned-over area where the Waterfall fire started.
In some areas firefighters had to pull away from homes because of the intensity of the fire, which was fanned by gusting winds, he said.
“It’s just unreal,” said Judy Staub, who lost her home of 22 years. “It was burned down and everything was gone but an old antique wagon.”
“People say ‘Judy, you have your children and your husband and your dog’ and I say I know that. But so many memories are gone,” she added. “I never dreamed I’d experience something like this.”
“You never think it’s going to be you,” said neighbor Robin Darney, who also lost her home. “It’s a grief I hope I will never feel again. But my children are safe.”
Darney said she, her husband and their five children had weathered several smaller fires over the years.
“I feared this almost every day I lived there, I never expected it,” she said.
“It’s always somebody else,” said Art Bayer, whose home was heavily damaged. “When it happens to you it’s devastating.”
An evacuation center was set up at Carson High School. The campus of Western Nevada Community College was evacuated, though firefighters managed to protect it.
– Nevada Appeal reporters F.T. Norton and Karl Horeis, the Associated Press and Tahoe Daily Tribune staff contributed to this report.