Illegal campfire started Waterfall blaze
Tribune News Service
The Waterfall fire that destroyed 15 homes and forced hundreds of people to evacuate is expected to be 100 percent contained today, authorities said Monday as their plans turned to protecting Carson City’s water supply.
Mayor Ray Masayko said $500,000 in city funds will be used to improve water quality and repair the environment.
“Whatever damage has been done to the watershed is critical to get on before any other restoration project,” he said.
The entire eastern slope of the Carson Range serves as the city’s watershed, from which water drains into the Carson River and water table. The damage done to the earth by the fire which began Wednesday morning can pollute the community’s water supply.
“We need to try to keep as much sediment from going in there as possible,” Masayko said.
Half the $500,000 will be for residences for land restoration and erosion control.
“We need to work on restoration because if we don’t it will be more devastating than what we’ve seen in the last couple of days,” Gov. Kenny Guinn said.
Jack Troyer, regional forester for the intermountain region of the U.S. Forest Service, said a multi-agency effort will include seeding and tree-planting on the 7,600 acres scorched by the Waterfall fire.
Rehabilitation began Sunday with construction of artificial terraces to slow runoff this fall. Planting will come later in what’s expected to be a yearlong process.
“We pledge to work together and work hard,” Troyer said
Federal money is expected to pay three-quarters of the $5 million price tag to fight the blaze.
Asked if response was slow to the fire, which started at three acres on a ridge above Kings Canyon, Gary Schiff, Carson District ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, called it “not bad.” The first federal crews were on the scene at 3:38 a.m. Wednesday, he said.
The Carson City Fire Department had two engines on scene within 10 minutes of the 911 call, said acting Fire Chief Stacey Giomi, but were unable to reach the area.
It was so isolated, Schiff said, “it built up tremendous steam.”
“We’ve never seen fire going in different directions like this one did,” Schiff said.
Investigators believe a campfire, a 45-minute walk from the road near the waterfalls, could have smoldered for days before someone spotted it, said Robert L. Vaught, forest supervisor for Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest .
“Our efforts right now are to find the people that did this,” he said. “Seven thousand acres burned because one person had an illegal campfire.”
Vaught said the person or persons would likely face civil charges and be liable for damages. They could also be charged criminally, but he declined to speculate on what the charges would be.
At the height of the firefighting effort, more than 1,900 firefighters were on the lines. By Monday, most of the aircraft had been released and the number of firefighters was down to about 700. After burning the homes on the western edge of Carson City on Wednesday and Thursday, the fire gradually moved upslope into mountains west of town.
People who were evacuated were allowed to return to their homes over the weekend.