Sierra forest fire threatens community, shuts down I-80 |

Sierra forest fire threatens community, shuts down I-80

TRUCKEE, Calif. (AP) – A raging 12,000-acre forest fire shut down Interstate 80 and a major rail line, and threatened homes Sunday in a tiny Sierra community about 10 miles east of here.

Battalion Chief Jim Hoffmier of the California Department of Forestry said the fire forced mandatory evacuations of 42 homes in Floriston.

Sunday afternoon, fire crews from Lake Valley Fire Department and Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection District left South Shore to help battle the wildland fire. Three firefighters, an engine and a strike team leader left from Lake Valley. One engine and three firefighter went from Tahoe-Douglas. Both engines are designed for brush protection.

The 12:08 p.m. fire began in the Glenshire area just east of Truckee and was spreading eastward down the Truckee River Canyon along I-80 toward Floriston.

”The fire is on both sides of the freeway, and is just right there above the houses,” Hoffmier said. ”It’s well within a quarter mile of the nearest homes in Floriston.”

No homes were destroyed or damaged, but one firefighter suffered heat exhaustion.

I-80 was closed at about 2:30 p.m. at the Nevada line after the fire jumped from the south side of the interstate to the north side.

Heavy smoke from the blaze caused poor visibility for motorists, and blanketed the Reno area about 12 miles to the east and the Carson Valley about 60 miles to the southeast.

The fire also forced the closure of the transcontinental rail line through the Truckee canyon used by both Union Pacific freight and Amtrak passenger trains.

Hoffmier said firefighters were being hampered by steep terrain and wind gusts of up to 25 mph. The winds made the air attack difficult by blowing retardant off target.

”If the winds cooperate, we could stand a good chance of saving those homes,” he said. ”But Floriston is still very much at serious threat.”

As long as winds don’t reverse direction, the nearby communities of Glenshire and Hirschdale should be out of danger, Hoffmier said. The fire burned within a half-mile of homes in Hirschdale.

A shelter was set up for evacuees at Truckee Elementary School, but most evacuees ended up in the Reno area to avoid going through the fire area, Hoffmier said.

The fire scared some Glenshire residents by burning within about two miles of the community, said Jenni Charles, an employee at the Glenshire General Store.

”There’s so much smoke it looks like a big nuclear bomb went off,” she said. ”Some people are freaking out. But most people in Glenshire are calming down because it’s not as close to us as it looks.”

Ten helicopters, nine air tankers and 17 hand crews with more than 200 firefighters responded to the blaze, said fire information officer Tina Rose.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. There was no lightning in the area Sunday.

”Winds are pushing the fire through heavy timber, and those fires are very hard to fight,” Rose said. ”It’s blowing toward Nevada at a pretty good clip.”

The fire began near Martis Peak Road on the south side of I-80, and mostly was confined to the south side of the interstate, fire officials said.

The driest wildland conditions in more than half a century have prompted fire officials to impose outdoor restrictions for the Sierra far earlier than usual.

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