The "meanest, ugliest" wildfire to hit Nevada's capital has been blocked from torching more homes by an army of firefighters that managed to get a line around half of the 7,600-acre blaze on Friday.
The explosive Waterfall fire burned at least 14 homes in two days before moving west into rugged mountains that separate the town from Lake Tahoe. But authorities cautioned their estimate of 50 percent containment could drop rapidly.
Gov. Kenny Guinn said there was concern that gusty winds - which slowed Friday - could pick up again over the weekend and breathe new life into the blaze.
"I think we'd describe it as the meanest, ugliest and kind of an uncooperative fire," Guinn said.
"We just have to be prepared as best we can be," Guinn said. "Let's just don't have this kind of a fire in five other places at one time, because it would be even more devastating."
Dense smoke, erratic winds, low humidity and drought-stricken trees and brush have challenged the 1,500 firefighters who were working in steep terrain. The fire was so hot at times that it burned through retardant dropped by tankers, authorities said.
But officials also said that if the weather cooperates, the fire could be fully contained by early next week.
"This is far and away the worst fire I've ever seen in 24 years of firefighting," Acting Carson City Fire Chief Stacey Giomi told hundreds of people, many of them evacuated from their homes, during a community center meeting. All were allowed to return to their homes Friday.
Giomi said fire crews would have needed a half-mile wide stretch of bare dirt to stop embers from spreading the blaze, and there was no firebreaks close to that size.
"There's still plenty of fire out there," said Peter D'Aquanni of the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center. "If the wind starts blowing again it could be off to the races."
"It's so close to an urban area," D'Aquanni said. "Most (fires) are out in the wilderness where there are only a few homes. This one has had the potential to be totally catastrophic."
Despite the hazards, only five people were injured and hundreds of homes were saved. The low number of injuries and structure losses was "a miracle," Giomi said.
The count of burned homes could be as high as 16, Giomi said. One business was destroyed, along with 25 barns, garages and other outbuildings since the blaze broke out before dawn Wednesday. Dozens of cars, trucks, RV's and other vehicles also burned.
One firefighter broke a leg, another suffered back and neck injuries and two others suffered burns. A television reporter suffered minor burns on his hands and face.
The firefighters on the lines were assisted by 16 aircraft, including three heavy tankers, 16 bulldozers and more than 100 engines.
On Thursday, the fire threatened two northwest Carson neighborhoods with about 600 homes, destroying several, before it was stopped at a ridge separating the Washoe Valley to the north.
Hugh Fenwick, a commercial airline pilot who lost his $800,000 home, said the fire hit his neighborhood so quickly that he only had enough time to grab a file cabinet, a load of clothing and some family heirlooms.
"The ironic thing was that when the fire hit I was building a sprinkler system," said Fenwick, 37, who had constructed the mountainside home in 2001 and moved in only two years ago.
Fenwick, in apparent good spirits despite his loss, added, "What are you going to do? Cry? Crying is not going to bring my house back."
Investigators believe the fire might have been started by a group of teenagers who were in a canyon Tuesday. Several juveniles have been interviewed, Carson City Sheriff Kenny Furlong said.
The blaze destroyed exclusive homes in the canyon and at one point burned to within half a mile of - but didn't threaten - the governor's mansion.
On the Net: Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center: http://www.sierrafront.net/