An army of firefighters struggled Thursday to contain an explosive wildfire that injured five people, destroyed 21 structures and threatened 550 other homes and businesses on the west edge of the Nevada capital.
"I've never seen a fire as bad as this fire. I've never seen behavior as bad as this fire," Assistant Carson City Fire Chief Stacey Giomi, a firefighter for 24 years, said as he met with victims to talk about the wind-whipped blaze that quickly charred 8,500 acres.
"It's at least that. It's probably going to hit 10,000 acres," state Forester Pete Anderson said about fire that was started by a person early Wednesday in a canyon near upscale homes. Authorities were looking for a particular 1978 Dodge truck.
The blaze destroyed seven of the exclusive homes in the canyon and burned within half a mile of the governor's mansion. As night fell, gusty winds eased, temperatures cooled, and the fire moved up the slope away from homes, Giomi said.
About 900 firefighters, aided by seven air tankers and 10 helicopters, braced for afternoon winds Thursday that Giomi said could drive the fire back toward the city.
Gov. Kenny Guinn said the fire hazard made it imperative for federal officials to quickly complete examinations of heavy air tankers recently grounded in nearby Minden. Once cleared to fly, he said those planes would be just minutes away. The big tankers fighting the fire flew in from distant locations to try to save homes and businesses.
"Your heart goes out to them," Guinn said of the fire victims. But he added "it's good news and it's bad news" because firefighters, unable to save some homes, were able to keep the blaze from several hundred other homes and businesses.
One firefighter broke a leg, another suffered back and neck injuries and two others suffered burns, according to fire spokeswoman Christie Kalkowski of the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center. Reporter John Tyson of KOLO-TV in Reno suffered minor burns on his hands and face.
One of the burned firefighters was with a crew trapped briefly when the rapidly moving blaze leapfrogged their position and destroyed their fire engine. Three other fire vehicles and Tyson's vehicle also were burned.
"It's absolute devastation up there," 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.
Giomi estimated the value of the destroyed homes at "several millions of dollars." Kalkowski said the 21 destroyed structures included nine homes, two businesses and 10 outbuildings.
Fire spokesman Scott Huntley said that as the fire spread south from the waterfall area it forced a temporary closure Wednesday of U.S. 395 - Carson City'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.
"It's just unreal," said Judy Staub, who lost her home of 22 years. "It was burned down and everything was gone but an old antique wagon."
"People say 'Judy, you have your children and your husband and your dog' and I say I know that. But so many memories are gone," she added. "I never dreamed I'd experience something like this."
"You never think it's going to be you," said neighbor Robin Darney, who also lost her home. "It's a grief I hope I will never feel again. But my children are safe."
Darney said she, her husband and their five children had weathered several smaller fires over the years.
"I feared this almost every day I lived there, I never expected it," she said.
"It's always somebody else," said Art Bayer, whose home was heavily damaged. "When it happens to you it's devastating."
An evacuation center was set up at a local high school. The campus of Western Nevada Community College was evacuated, though firefighters managed to stake out a protective line around it.
On the Net: Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center: http://www.sierrafront.net