Sierra forest fire slows as winds ease
RENO – Lighter winds, slightly higher humidity and enough firefighters to start a small town have helped slow the advance of a huge fire raging through the Sierra and into western Nevada.
”All this was an empty parking lot,” fire information officer Laura Williams said at the McQueen High School command post. ”Now we have a whole city here.”
The fire, whipped by winds to 35 mph, exploded at a rate of 2,000 acres an hour Sunday afternoon. It was estimated at 12,600 acres early Tuesday – down sharply from earlier computations as high as 20,000 acres – and was about 30 percent contained.
”This was an extremely aggressive fire. Mother Nature was just playing all the right cards,” said Tina Rose, fire information officer for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Because it’s early in the season and there are no other major fires burning in the West, local agencies were able to call in two supervisory teams to oversee operations, along with hundreds of firefighters and scores of pieces of equipment.
Most major fire incidents get only one so-called overhead team.
”The operation folks come up with an idea of the resources they need to fight the fire,” planning officer Mike Howe told the Reno Gazette-Journal. ”We make sure the folks get here and make sure they end up on the fire line. We are the intelligence end of it.”
Some 3,100 people working the fire were assisted by 12 air tankers, 16 helicopters, 56 bulldozers and 242 engines. The cost of fighting the fire is estimated at $1.7 million so far.
An investigation team was assigned to find the cause.
The fire began in dense, dry timber about five miles east of Truckee, and spread generally eastward along Interstate 80 toward Reno. By Tuesday, about two-thirds of the burn area was in Nevada, edging toward Mount Rose south of Reno.
The former sawmill town of Floriston, Calif., 30 miles southwest of Reno, was evacuated Sunday but was spared.
A mobile home, an outbuilding, a travel trailer and three vehicles were destroyed on Sunday around Floriston and in the nearby Hirschdale area.
Heavy smoke produced a dense haze in Reno, where health officials urged people to stay indoors. Light ash also sifted down Monday. Sixty employees were sent home from the Reno Municipal Courthouse when the building filled with smoke particles and some people became nauseous.
”It’s just a ton of smoke at once,” said Tracie Douglas of the Washoe District Health Department. ”It’s not like a burn ban in the wintertime, where it slowly builds up, and we can say ‘No more wood burning.’ This is just there – boom.”
Lower temperatures and higher humidity also benefitted fire crews in northeastern New Mexico, who neared victory over the 3,850-acre Hobbs fire. They had reached 85 percent containment by midday.
It was the second major wildfire this year on media mogul Ted Turner’s Vermejo Park Ranch. In May, a 4,000-acre blaze scorched the 578,000-acre spread along the Colorado-New Mexico border.
Five Southern California wildfires that have consumed nearly 2,500 acres were near containment, including a 1,074-acre fire in the San Bernardino Mountains that began last week as a controlled burn. It was 90 percent contained at a cost of more than $2.2 million.
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