New Homes Built in the Line of Fire

By: Auburn Hutton
By: Auburn Hutton

A construction project on Geiger Grade is raising eyebrows among fire officials in the Truckee Meadows.

There are four homes on the 45 acre plot, and fire officials say it's one of the worst places they can imagine for building a new home...right in the line of fire.

"When I first saw these houses in this wild land urban interface, these people need to know they're building in a high fire area. Virginia City Highlands was rated at extreme risk for catastrophic loss due to wildfire," said Andrew List of the Nevada Fire Safe Council.

Acres upon acres of dry fuels surround the homes...the perfect opportunity for a wildfire to come ripping through.

"This is a particularly steep area. If a fire started right in here, it could be wind-drive right toward that home. Another thing, it looks like it hasn't burned in awhile. There are a lot of fuels accumulated, a lot of fuels ready to burn," said List.

Gary Bullock is part of the construction crew at work on the houses. He says he knows a thing or two about fire danger in the Virginia City foothills...he's even had fires spark up during construction.

"A fire actually started on the side of the house. I put it out with a machine right when it started," said Bullock.

Fire officials ask: why build then, when the potential for total loss is so high?

"Even if you have defensible space, it doesn't mean your home is fire proof. There's no such thing as a fire-proof home," said List.

They say Washoe County planners should never have permitted homes like these to take shape in an area just asking for a wildfire.

"Under the right conditions and with this amount of fuel and a windy day, these homes could be lost."

Even the builders recognize there must be some danger...since getting a permit to even start the project, wasn't easy.

"35 years ago, you just walk in and get a permit. Today, to get these permits, I would say it's been a year and a half," said Bullock.

The builders told us that in order to get a permit to build here, they had to clear at least 30 feet of defensible space around the homes.

When we spoke with fire officials, they said for this home and the type of fire potential it has around it, they would have recommended at least 100 feet.

The guidelines are in place and as long as the builders follow them, Washoe County has no reason to deny a permit.

Fire officials tell me they think the rules are way too lenient and something needs to be done in order to keep more homes like these from going up.


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