Caughlin Fire One Year Later: Scars and Lessons

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RENO, NV - Sunday is the one year anniversary of the Caughlin Fire which destroyed 28 homes in West Reno and left an impact on our community and its fire departments.

It was a fire unlike any in memory, even for a veteran firefighter.

"It was a once in a career event, an extraordinary fire," says Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez.

It began with high winds whipping power lines in the hillsides above the city, sparking a wildfire, then quickly sending it into the suburbs.

It was also just past midnight. Most in its path were asleep and unaware. Power was out and evacuation became an immediate problem.

"We had to go door to door," remembers Hernandez. "Traffic signals were out. People were racing to get away from the fire. We had traffic accidents. Gates in gated communities wouldn't work."

And there were people running into the streets telling firemen they couldn't evacuate because they couldn't open their garage doors.
Many people, apparently don't know how to open those doors manually.

The unusual conditions presented some new challenges and those fighting the had to adjust quickly.

The fire was as capricious as it was destructive. Destroying one house, leaving its neighbor as the wind carried it blocks ahead.

"Some of the traditional methods of fighting fire weren't working," says Hernandez.

In the aftermath, agencies looked for lessons. There were many, better communication with law enforcement among them and most of all to expect the unexpected.

Those lessons were fresh in mind when just two months later, the Washoe Drive Fire raced from Old Washoe City to Pleasant Valley to the Mount Rose Highway.

"The only difference," Hernandez says," was the time of day and that worked to our advantage."

If either fire had happened during traditional fire season, federal assets would have been close by ready to jump in. These fires broke out after those resources had been mothballed for the winter.

That may be the Caughlin Fire's biggest lesson.

"We monitor the weather now as if fire season has never ended. This is the new reality."