Lightning sparks slew of wildfires
RENO – More than 1,000 firefighters were battling a series of lightning-sparked fires that had burned more than 50,000 acres across northern Nevada by Monday night, forcing evacuations, closing sections of U.S. Interstate 80 and U.S. Highway 50 and scorching part of the training grounds at a state fire academy.
Already hampered by dry conditions, high temperatures and erratic winds, fire crews scrambled to respond to at least a half dozen new fires around the Reno and Carson City area late Monday afternoon after another round of thunderstorms packing lightning passed through the area.
East of Carson City, two brush fires combined were burning 1,500 acres in the Mound House area, where Lyon County sheriff’s deputies closed part of U.S. Highway 50 and were asking residents to leave some neighborhoods there as well as at nearby Stagecoach. About 300 firefighters were on the scene.
As many as 150 to 300 residences and businesses in Mound House and west toward Carson City were threatened, but no injuries had been reported and no structures had burned, said Mark Struble, a spokesman for the Sierra Front Interagency Fire Dispatch Center said about 8 p.m.
A civil emergency statement broadcast at 8:16 p.m. said residents likely would be displaced for at least eight hours. An emergency shelter was set up at Dayton High School.
Some residents also were evacuating voluntarily from their homes north of Reno where about 120-150 firefighters were working a complex of fires as large as 2,000 acres in Palomino Valley and Lemmon Valley.
All told, fire crews were attacking at least two dozen fires across northern Nevada Monday evening, from the heavily timbered western front of the Sierra Nevada near Reno to the sage and grass-filled rangeland near Elko 300 miles to the east.
“We’ve got almost all of northeastern Nevada’s fire-fighting resources on fires right now,” said Gina Dingman, acting manager of the Elko Interagency Dispatch Center.
Evacuations earlier were ordered in two rural communities near Elko and flames burned within one-quarter mile of homes about 15 miles northwest of Reno just west of the Nevada-California line. But no injuries were reported, no structures have burned and no homes immediately were threatened at that fire five miles west of Bordertown, Nev., fire officials said.
The biggest fire Monday afternoon surpassed 40,000 acres about 20 miles west of Elko near Carlin, where the University of Nevada Fire Science Academy is located along Interstate 80.
Flames burned 350 acres of the training grounds on the 426-acre campus and came within several hundred yards of the main academy building housing classrooms, sleeping quarters and offices, said Denise Baclawski, the academy’s executive director.
“We do a lot of real-life fire training but we never expected this,” Baclawski said. “All night long we had staff members work to protect the facility.”
About 15 students were attending an emergency response team refresher course at the time, but left the firefighting chores to existing staff, she said.
“The fire certainly does provide a real-life lesson on firefighting and they can use it as an example.”
Two sections of the interstate that had been closed Sunday night due to fires were reopened early Monday morning, but the Nevada Highway Patrol closed nearly the entire 20 mile stretch from Carlin to Elko for several hours again at midday. They reopened it late in the afternoon but closed State Highway 225 – which connects Elko to Mountain City – at the Adobe Summit about 10 miles northwest of Elko.
“We’re having some strong activity again right now. They have heavy smoke and a big wind shift. There’s a lot of smoke, poor visibility,” said Mike Brown, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Elko.
One of the bigger fires in western Nevada tripled in size overnight to about 1,500 acres in rugged terrain about 15 miles northwest of Reno, but by Monday evening it was reported to be 50 percent contained and some of the 250 firefighters there were being transferred to other blazes.
In addition to the fire west of Elko near Carlin, another burned nearly 10,000 acres about 10 miles northeast of Elko, forcing the evacuation on Monday of about 30 homes at the River Ranch housing development. It was near the small ranching community of Elburz, where a handful of residences were evacuated Sunday night.
“The fire was pretty spectacular at times,” Elko County Undersheriff Bernie Curtis told the Elko Daily Free Press. “There were flames of 50- to 100-feet in height.”
About 300 firefighters were on the job at those fires and others surrounding Elko, Brown said.
The newest fire in northeast Nevada was in a federal wilderness study area about 35 miles southwest of Elko and had burned about 2,000 acres. Fire officials were diverting some air tankers from the other fires to the wilderness area “to drop on that and try to keep it as small as possible,” Brown said.
“We’re seeing fire behavior that we typically don’t see until August, largely because of a dense fuel load. It’s just a giant tinderbox.
“The weather doesn’t look good for today, with more dry lightning forecast. We’re just trying to get as many resources here as we can,” he said Monday.
About 100 miles north of Reno, two other wildfires that began Sunday also continued to burn out of control, including one that had burned about 3,000 acres near Gerlach.
– Associated Press writer Martin Griffith in Reno also contributed to this report.
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