Break In Fire Battles

By: John Tyson & Koula Gianulias
By: John Tyson & Koula Gianulias

Two of the top firefighting teams in the nation led the attack from the air and the ground Wednesday in fire-plagued Nevada, where scores of wildland blazes continued to burn across more than 140,000 acres from the Sierra to the Utah state line.
Cooler weather helped an estimated 1,400 firefighters on the
fire lines statewide make some progress against the two big fires
of most concern, but late afternoon winds fanned a pair of newer
fires north and east of Reno, forcing the closure of stretches of
U.S. Highway 95-A and State Highway 447.
One federal Type I incident management team moved in to battle
the 8,000-acre Sierra-Tahoe complex of fires in western Nevada near
Reno and Carson City, and another team was preparing to assume
command of the huge Suzie fire in northeast Nevada, which grew to
more than 78,000 acres near Elko.
In all, some 210 square miles of the state has been charred
since lightning began sparking dozens of fires over the weekend. Of
the 33 major large fires burning in the United States, 10 are in
Nevada.
The nearby Lineham fire, which began Monday near Mound House
just east of Carson City near the historic Pony Express trail, was
estimated at 4,500 acres after a satellite measurement lowered the
size from 6,000 acres. Voluntary evacuations were in place when as
many as 200 homes were threatened Tuesday, but most residents were
returning to their homes Wednesday.
"The lines are pretty well holding," said Kathy Jo Pollock, a
spokeswoman for the fire management team in Carson City.
"We haven't had any troubles today at all," she said
Wednesday.
Some 300 miles to the east, the 62,500-acre Suzie blaze burned
toward a subdivision in northwestern Elko late Tuesday, but stopped
1½ miles short at a green belt. No one was evacuated.
Rowdy Muir, incident commander for the Sierra-Tahoe complex,
said his team would deploy about 800 firefighters and related
vehicles and aircraft against fires in an area from Reno north to
Pyramid Lake, southeast to Silver Springs, back east to Carson City
and north again toward Reno along the eastern front of the Sierra.
Another 600 firefighters were working the fires in the Elko area.
Three consecutive days of temperatures in the 90s, low humidity
and dry lightning was forecast to give way Wednesday night to a wet
West Coast system, with a possibility of potentially heavy rain. A
flash flood watch was posted for the Reno-Carson City area.
"We've got a lot of cloud cover, the humidity has come up and
the temperatures are a lot cooler," Pollock said. "Any type of
winds will still be a concern for us."
About 30 miles east of Reno, a growing wildfire in Lyon County
has forced the Nevada Highway Patrol to shut down a 15-mile stretch
of U.S. Highway 95-A connecting Fernley to Silver Springs at U.S.
Highway 50.
The road was closed about 4:30 p.m. because the 400-acre
Virginia fire was burning toward the highway and the Fernley-Reno
Raceway, Lyon County Sheriff's Capt. Jeff Page said.
Authorities also closed State Highway 447 at Nixon on the sound
end of Pyramid Lake about 15 miles north of Interstate 80 after
strong winds kicked up and the Pioto fire escaped control lines
about the same time.
Two air tankers were immediately reassigned to that fire, which
has grown well beyond the initial 15 acres that was burning near
Empire about 90 miles north of Reno earlier in the day, fire
officials.
Interstate 80, which was closed temporarily Monday and Tuesday,
remained open near Elko, but fire officials warned that smoke was
obscuring visibility.
East of the Suzie fire, the Elburz fire blackened 9,600 acres
before it was contained. But zero containment was reported for the
Sneekee fire burning 7,200 acres in the Red Springs Wilderness
Study Area southwest of Elko.
Elko City Engineer Ferron Konakis urged residents to postpone
outdoor watering because one of the city's wells is shut down for
rehabilitation.
"Tanks are still on the low side, and we want to keep the no
outdoor watering restrictions on until we evaluate what's happening
with the fires," he said.
While rain generally would help fire crews, Pollock said it
could cause problems, too.
"On some of the dirt roads, it will make it a little slick for
some of the firefighters getting in and out," she said.
The 210 square miles of burned land is about 134,000 acres, more
than four times the size of San Francisco.
No injuries have been reported and no structures have burned,
but there have been a number of close calls, including fires that
threatened homes Monday in Palomino Valley and Lemmon Valley on the
outskirts of Reno. The 2,000-acre Balls Canyon fire near the
California line northwest of Reno and the 3,000-acre Empire fire
near Gerlach were expected to be contained by late Wednesday.
"We've got a pretty good handle on it," Sierra Front spokesman
Kirk Frosdick said Wednesday at the Balls Canyon fire 15 miles
northwest of Reno. "We tried to dig a line all the way around it
today."
Gov. Kenny Guinn praised the work of the more than 1,000
firefighters on the lines.
"They've done an outstanding job so far. I just wish we had
more equipment," he said.
Guinn declared a state of emergency, which he said would give
local governments a leg up in seeking federal assistance to restore
depleted firefighting resources given "a significant amount of
time remains in the fire season."
Fire officials declared the Sage fire fully contained Wednesday
at 20,000 acres northwest of Lovelock in north-central Nevada. But
a new blaze, the North Antelope fire southeast of Midas, was
burning out of control and had scorched an estimated 5,000 acres.
The 7,700-acre Sherwood fire was 70 percent contained southwest
of Ely in the Grant Range, about 15 miles north of the ghost town
Adaven, which is Nevada spelled backward.
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