1,500 Evacuees Allowed Home After Wildfire Reaches Winnemucca

About 1,500 evacuees were allowed home hours after a 25,000-acre wildfire burned into the northern Nevada town of Winnemucca, but the danger to residents still was not over, fire officials said Sunday.

The wind-whipped blaze burned up to the backyards of at least a couple dozen homes Saturday in Winnemucca, and destroyed an electrical substation and five to seven outbuildings, authorities said.

Initial reports by officials that the blaze had damaged an unknown number of homes proved untrue after crews were able to scour the area, fire information officer Pete Jankowski said Sunday evening.

The fire also shut down Interstate 80, delayed Union Pacific and Amtrak trains and killed livestock. No injuries were reported.

"It was pretty hairy for quite a while and people thought they would go back to nothing," Humboldt County Undersheriff Curtiss Kull said. "It was a huge wall of flame coming at the homes. It's amazing that no homes were lost."

Residents from 600 to 700 homes in Winnemucca, about 170 miles east of Reno, were subject to a mandatory evacuation over at least a six-hour period ending late Saturday night, Kull said.

Some residents decided to stay and fight the fire themselves, while most relied on crews with engines to protect homes, the undersheriff said.

Jamie Thompson, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, said a 10-mile-long fire line that had previously been
installed around much of the town played a major role in keeping damage to a minimum.

While crews were able to make progress Sunday with no major problems, Jankowski said the danger to residents still was not over.

"The weather will determine what happens with it," Jackowski said. "There's still a large area of fire and there's the potential for problems if we have the same erratic winds we had yesterday."

Winds were calmer Sunday, with gusts hitting only 20 mph compared with 40 mph the day before. The temperature reached 100 degrees on Sunday in Winnemucca, up from 99 the previous day.

The fire was 10 percent contained Sunday evening and no estimate
was provided as far as when full containment would be reached,
Jankowski said.

Since Friday afternoon, about two dozen lightning-caused wildfires have blackened about 250 square miles, or 160,000 acres, of rangeland across northern Nevada.

The largest Nevada fires - one about 25 miles west of Winnemucca and the other near Jackpot along the Idaho line - have each scorched 78 square miles, or 50,000 acres, BLM officials said.

Earlier Sunday, the blaze near the Idaho border was 15 percent contained while the other was 30 percent contained.

The fire near Winnemucca shut down the interstate off and on Saturday. It also delayed an eastbound Amtrak train by 9½ hours and
six Union Pacific trains for varying amounts of time.

"They shut down the line because we couldn't safely go through," Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole said. "There was power on the train and the passengers never deboarded the train. They gave them announcements of what was going on."

Fire officials reported progress on a string of blazes in Elko County in northeastern Nevada, including the one near the Idaho border.

A blaze about five miles southwest of Carlin was fully contained Saturday night after burning 23 square miles, or 15,000 acres. It burned two mobile homes and several smaller structures, and shut down a section of Interstate 80 for six hours.

"We're holding our own and making good progress on this series of fires in Elko County," said Sam Hicks, fire management officer for the Nevada Division of Forestry. "More resources are arriving and are giving us a much-needed hand."

Type 1 fire management teams on Sunday took over command of both
the fires near Winnemucca and the Idaho line.

A 1,000-acre fire west of Elko was threatening a government facility under construction that will commemorate covered-wagon pioneers who crossed Nevada in the 19th century, BLM spokesman Mike Brown said.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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