Residents evacuated, 400 battle blaze
Staff and wire reports
CARSON CITY – A firestorm that began Wednesday morning has consumed much of the ridge in the Kings Canyon area of the capital city, destroying nine homes, injuring several firefighters and scorching more than 2,000 acres.
As of press time, more than 500 homes were threatened and no containment time has been determined, as the Waterfall fire spread out of control in an area of upscale homes that dot the rolling hills surrounding Carson City.
Agencies fighting the blaze said that there was no containment of the fire, but independent reports said the fire had slowed down some as it hit the Voltaire Canyon, the site of last summer’s fire which burned hundreds of acres.
More than 400 firefighters are battling the blaze, which was human-caused, said Scott Huntley, spokesman for the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center in Minden. The fire is classified as a type I fire, the most serious and dangerous of all fires. Three single-engine air tankers, one heavy air tanker and five helicopters assisted.
FEMA help approved
Carson City’s Board of Supervisors declared a state of emergency and asked Gov. Kenny Guinn for assistance. Guinn, who was en route to the capital from Las Vegas, sent state workers home for the day.
At an 8 p.m. press conference, Guinn told of how he flew into Carson City from Las Vegas and wasn’t able to see parts of the city.
“It’s pretty astonishing to see,” he said.
Federal Emergency Management Agency money has already been approved to pay for 75 percent of the costs associated with the fire, which is now reported to be $500,000. But getting it in a timely manner is another matter since Nevada is only budgeted to receive just under $4 million for the year, Guinn said.
The fire may be a precursor of what’s to come later in the season, Guinn warned, noting that he and other Western governors met earlier this month to discuss fire strategies and federal costs associated with forest and wildland fires.
“You are going to see it pick up earlier this year then ever before,” Guinn said.
Highways and roads clogged
At one point, the fire closed Highway 395, the main artery through Carson City as flames swept down the hillsides and began to enter commercial areas on the south end of town.
“We’re thin,” said Carson City Fire Marshall Stacey Giomi. “It’s stretching across the worst possible spot in Carson City to have a wildfire.”
Three emergency vehicles were reported to have been destroyed by the fire, which exploded into an inferno as winds rose about noon, forcing hand crews fighting the fire to withdraw quickly from Kings Canyon.
Air tankers and single-wing planes bombarded the flames throughout the day with red clouds of retardant.
Neighborhoods throughout the city’s west side were evacuated during the day, sending residents and their pets to evacuation centers set up at an elementary school and Carson High School.
Sitting in her Minnesota Street office Wednesday morning, Michele Cowee’s mind kept wandering to her Kings Canyon home.
“I’m sitting here thinking of everything up there,” she said. “It is kind of hard to think you might lose it all.”
When she left the house around 8 a.m., she figured the fire would soon be under control.
Shortly after 9:30 a.m., she received a phone call from her 23-year-old stepdaughter, Amanda, saying the homes were being evacuated.
In a series of calls, she directed Amanda to the photo albums around the house and wrestled in her mind what other things to take.
“Of course you want the pictures,” she said. “But there’s other little things you could never replace.
“But things are just things, and photos are memories.”
And ultimately, “the family is most important,” she reasoned.
A little before 10:30 a.m., she instructed Amanda to join her at the office.
“Just lock up and hope for the best,” she said before hanging up the phone.
Around that same time, Katy Kendall also left her house and drove to the evacuation center at Fritsch Elementary School.
Evacuation center established
Red Cross volunteers set up activities for children in the school’s gymnasium and served dinner to evacuees between 4 and 6 p.m.
“We can call in nurses to help, if necessary,” explained Caroline Punches, executive director of the Sierra Nevada chapter. “We can basically provide anything they need.”
The evacuation center was later moved to Carson High School, where cots were set up.
Red Cross spokeswoman Donna Brand said the public can help by donating money or volunteering for the organization.
“We’re working closely with the Salvation Army and FISH, a Carson City thrift store,,” she said. “So people can donate to those.”
Kendall’s husband called in the fire at 3 a.m., when he got up for work.
“When he woke me up, it was just a little line of black smoke,” she said. “I thought it was controlled.”
She went back to bed. By the time she woke up again at 6 a.m., she could see it was not under control.
“I’ve been watching it all morning, and it’s just been getting bigger and bigger.”
While others waited in their homes after the evacuation order, Kendall said she left right away with her children Drew, 10, Kacey, 5, and Dani, 4.
“With the kids and a cat and a dog, you just have to go,” she said. “My whole car is full of photo albums.”
As firefighters continued to combat the blaze on top of the hill, homeowners tried to remain hopeful.
“It’s kind of scary, but I like to be an optimist and think they’re going to get it all under control,” Cowee said.
– Nevada Appeal reporter F.T. Norton and the Associated Press contributed to this report