High winds fan wildfire south of Reno; school evacuated
RENO, Nev. (AP) ” A wildfire fanned by winds gusting up to 68 miles per hour raced along the edge of a valley south of Reno on Tuesday, closing a major highway, threatening homes and causing the evacuation of a school.
The fire was estimated at 200 acres and growing quickly because of strong winds, fire officials said.
“This thing is moving pretty fast,” Reno Fire Department spokesman Steve Frady told The Associated Press from the scene on the north edge of Washoe Valley about 10 miles from Reno.
There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage to buildings, though some homes were threatened in the sparsely populated area.
Students at Pleasant Valley Elementary School were evacuated on buses to Galena High School on Reno’s south side. No homes were evacuated as the fire raced through brush, but livestock had to be moved out of the fire’s path.
The fire burned up to U.S. Highway 395, forcing a five-mile stretch of the road to be closed during rush hour.
Officials said about 100 firefighters were on the fire line, battling stiff winds and thick smoke that blanketed the valley and could be seen 30 miles away. The National Weather Service reported wind blowing at a sustained 42 mph in the area.
“The whole valley is full of smoke, the winds are terrible. The hills are full of cheat grass so we’re all worried about that,” said David Jones, who lives near the fire and was helping neighbors load up horses to be hauled away in trailers.
Dozens of fire engines surrounded homes in the area. Three to four homes were potentially in the path of the fire as it burned to the north-northeast.
“So far, it’s skirted those homes,” Frady said. “It’s burning primarily in moderate to dense sage brush, bitter brush and cheat grass.”
Joe Lindberg said he was arranging with a neighbor to haul his horses away.
“The conditions are a little erratic, it wouldn’t take much for the winds to switch directions,” he told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “It’s real dangerous for the firefighters.”
The cause of the fire was under investigation but authorities suspected it was started about 2 p.m. by electrical lines downed by high winds. An estimated 250 people in the area were without power, Sierra Pacific Power said.