Governor Kenny Guinn declared a state of emergency Tuesday as state and federal crews put practically every available piece of equipment on the lines to combat dozens of lightning-sparked fires that now have burned more than 100,000 acres of Nevada.
One of their best weapons proved to be a slight improvement in the weatherTuesday afternoon, which had hampered efforts to control the flames with three consecutive days of temperatures in the 90s, low humidity, strong erratic winds and dry lightning.
Nevertheless, more than 1,000 firefighters continue to battle dozens of fires, from a 57,000-acre blaze burning out of control largely in uninhabited rangeland in Northeast Nevada to a complex of a dozen smaller fires around Reno and Carson City that forced evacuations at the town of Moundhouse along the historic Pony Express Trail.
Jeff Arnberger is the assistant fire department management officer for the Bureau of Land Management in Elko, where the largest fires were burning. He says they are stretched about as thin as possible. He says they are especially thankful for help that is coming in from across the country.
The series of fires that threatened 300 homes and businesses at Moundhouse late Monday night grew to 6,000 acres overnight and looped around Carson City on the eastern front of the Sierra. As many as 200 homes remain threatened there tonight.
Hand crews were sent scrambling when a wind shift pushed flames back up a hillside about 4:30 Tuesday afternoon. But fire officials say a heavy air tanker responded with a retardant drop and helicopters dropped water on the fire's northeast flank, greatly reducing the threat within an hour.
Federal fire managers have sent a Type One Team - an army of firefighters assigned to national priority fires - to take control of that attack on what they now have dubbed the "Sierra-Tahoe Complex."
The estimated 110,000 acres of land that has burned since lightning bolts started sparking fires over the weekend amounts to about 172 square miles. That includes the 12,000-acre Sage Fire that was estimated to be 15 percent contained about 20 miles northwest of Lovelock, and the 5,000-acre North Antelope Fire, which started Tuesday about 15 southeast of Midas.
No structures have burned nor injuries reported so far. But there have been a number of close calls, including at the more than 1,000 acres of fires that threatened homes in Palomino Valley and Lemmon Valley on the outskirts of North Reno Monday night.
As of Tuesday night, the 96-acre fire in Lemmon Valley is estimated to be 95 percent contained of better, and the other trio of fires burning 700 to 900 acres at Palomino Valley, the Pah Rah Ridge and Spanish Springs are estimated to be 50 percent contained.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press.