Carson Wildfire Burn Homes, Injures Several

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Several firefighters and a reporter were injured, a dozen structures were destroyed or damaged and at least 300 other homes and businesses were threatened Wednesday by a wildfire burning on the west edge of the capital.

Gusty winds pushed the out-of-control fire to 2,000 acres in an area of upscale homes that dot the hills surrounding the city. At one point the fire, which stretched for about four miles along Carson City's western edge, was within half a mile of the governor's mansion.

"It's not very far from us here," Gov. Kenny Guinn said. "The trees are just exploding."

One firefighter broke his leg, another injured his back and a third was hospitalized with facial burns, said Scott Huntley, spokesman for the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center in Minden.

The burned firefighter was with a crew trapped briefly when the blaze leapfrogged their position and destroyed their fire engine. Several other firefighters reportedly received minor burns and other minor injuries.

KOLO-TV, Reno, reporter John Tyson suffered minor burns on his hands and face. His vehicle was destroyed, along with an ambulance, as the fire spread in all directions through brush and timber.

"It's absolute devastation up there," Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong said after driving through a burned-over area where the Waterfall Fire started, near a waterfall on a creek that's popular with local youths.

Furlong said he counted six houses "burned - and I mean burned down to their foundations" and another home that was damaged in the area.

In all, the Sierra Front said the fire destroyed a dozen structures, including nine homes, two commercial buildings and one outbuilding.

Huntley said that as the fire spread south from the Waterfall area it forced a temporary closure of U.S. 395 and also badly damaged an auto body shop just one block from the highway - Carson's main street.

In some areas firefighters had to pull away from homes because of the intensity of the fire, which was fanned by wind gusts of up to 30 miles per hour, he said.

About 500 firefighters were at or en route to the fire. They were assisted by seven air tankers, helicopters and several dozen trucks, tractors and other heavy equipment rushed to the scene.

The fire was human-caused, Huntley said, and authorities were looking for a 1978 Dodge truck with Nevada plates 250NYZ.

"I just can't believe it," said Sierra Gitlin, 26, who fled from her house with her dog and cat, some pictures, her grandmother's jewelry and a computer. "At first it didn't look like that much of a threat."

"I felt stupid gathering my things. I thought there was no way it could get to our house."

"It's not the stuff. It's the heart and soul we've put into it. It's our dream house," said Gitlin, who with her husband was nearing completion of a two-year remodeling job on their $500,000 home.

"The main thing now is to get back up there and keep the embers down," said Art Bayer, who lost part of his barn but was told his house was saved. His two horses, which he said he had to turn loose as he fled the fire, suffered some minor burns but were otherwise OK.

Carson City Fire Chief Dan Shirley said the fire, which created a huge plume of smoke over the city, burned both up and down the hill and became increasingly unpredictable in the afternoon.

"It's a monster (smoke) column. It's very scary looking," said Forest Service spokeswoman Christie Kalkowski, adding that the blaze broke out about 3 a.m. Wednesday.

An evacuation center was set up at a local high school and sheriff's deputies were going door-to-door urging people to leave. The campus of Western Nevada Community College was evacuated, though firefighters managed to stake out a protective line around it.