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Terrain remains obstacle

Story by Ronnie Lynn

As the Martis Fire worked its way into the Mt. Rose Wilderness Wednesday, firefighters began burning out pockets of surviving vegetation within the fire’s burn area, lest they flare up and revive the fire.

From Incline Village’s vantage point, it appeared as though the fire might be bearing down toward the community, just as it appeared to Glenshire residents when crews set backfires in the Juniper Creek drainage Monday.

Residents and visitors need not panic, said Tina Rose, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The western one-third of the fire is fully contained, she said.

“Today and tomorrow, Incline Village will be most worried only because they’ll see flames and smoke,” she said Wednesday. “That’s us, not the fire.”

The Incident Command Center at McQueen High School in northwest Reno fielded several phone calls from worried residents and passers-by, said Kathleen Kavalok, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman with the Carson Ranger District.

“They’re burning as they go because they want to clean up that line and get it as black and cold as possible as quickly as possible,” she said. “They don’t want to take any chances.”

Since it began east of Glenshire at 12:04 p.m. Sunday, the Martis Fire has burned 14,000 acres and destroyed a mobile home, outbuilding, three vehicles, a travel trailer and an unfinished vacation cabin. So far, the cost of fighting the fire is estimated at $2.8 million.

The blaze came close enough to the 42-home community of Floriston that residents had to be evacuated Sunday afternoon, but firefighters were able to hold their line and save the community from what seemed like certain destruction.

“We thought it was going to hit Floriston like a freight train,” Truckee Fire Protection District Chief Mike Terwilliger said.

Residents were allowed to return late that night.

Now, crews are working to increase the percentage of containment and to put out any hot spots that may pose a risk to breaking existing fire lines.

CDF officials said Wednesday the entire north line to contain the fire has been built, a strategy likely to increase the official containment percentage by this morning.

In addition, hand crews on the northeast fire line were working their way southward to connect with the crew above Incline Village, which is working its way northward. If all goes as planned, officials said, the crews could connect today.

Even though the western line is holding, helicopters continued to drop water on various hot spots, while air tankers dropped water and retardant on the east side, which remains about 8 miles from Reno.

Meanwhile, hand crews worked on the northern and southern portions of the fire, including the portion several ridge lines north of Incline Village.

The terrain is so rugged and remote that hand crews are about the only way to reinforce and extend the fire lines built so far.

“The access problems are very difficult,” Rose said. “They have to drive in and then hike another two hours to cut this fire line. This will be fought mostly by cutting hand lines because they can’t get dozers and heavy equipment back there.”

Firefighters are trying to get as strong a handle on the blaze as possible to minimize the potential impacts of increased winds expected Friday and Saturday.

The National Weather Service is forecasting highs in the mid 90s with winds at 10 to 15 mph out of the west and southwest.

On Wednesday, winds shifted from what has been a westerly direction to a northeasterly direction, elevating particulate levels in the Truckee region and casting a smoky haze from Reno to Alpine Meadows.

Sierra Sun staff writer Lara Mullin contributed to this report.


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