Nevada wildfire spreads, destroys 7 homes

HOLBROOK JUNCTION, Nev. — A fast-moving wildfire erupted in a rural neighborhood near the Nevada-California line and destroyed at least seven homes Tuesday but no injuries were reported and the danger was subsiding as winds died at nightfall along the Sierra’s eastern front.

Between 100 and 200 homes were threatened at one time in the Topaz Ranch Estates about 50 miles southeast of Lake Tahoe after the fire broke out before 2 p.m. — possibly after a controlled burn conducted in the area the day before rekindled in the winds gusting up to 40 mph, authorities said.

Douglas County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jim Halsey said no homes were in any immediate danger as of 6:30 p.m. but that authorities were recommending as many as 40 homes voluntarily evacuate as a precaution.

“Luckily the fire is kind of moving backup into the hills away from homes but the wind shifts around here and could move back down,” Halsey said after it had burned an estimated 3 square miles of mostly sage brush and juniper.

Three air tankers and seven helicopters were assisting about 250 firefighters battling the blaze and more were on order along with additional aircraft from as far away as Arizona.

Highway 208 between Holbrook Junction and Wellington was closed to everyone except residents.

Gov. Brian Sandoval said he has not declared a state of emergency but has asked for federal assistance grants for fire victims.

“We’ll do whatever it takes,” he said during an evening briefing at the fire command post in southern Douglas County. “We’re throwing everything we have at this.”

Lisa Ross, spokeswoman for the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center, said there was no estimate of when the fire might be contained.

Winds were steady throughout Tuesday, gusting throughout the day across the region that has seen very little moisture all winter, leaving vegetation dry and extremely flammable. The National Weather Service forecast called for westerly winds between 10 and 20 mph, with gusts as high as 30 mph overnight. Windy conditions were expected to diminish somewhat Wednesday with winds forecast at 5 to 15 mph.

Gene Field was among those who stood ready to evacuate if necessary. He saw the smoke from about 20 miles away when he got off work in Gardnerville and rushed home to help his wife, Janet, gather up personal belongings.

“We packed some of our stuff and put that in the back of our truck. It’s there just in case,” Field said.

A hiker telephoned 911 to report he was trapped in the hills near the Lyon-Douglas county line about 3:30 p.m. He was able to reach his car where he sought shelter in heavy smoke, surrounded by fire, before a sheriff’s deputy located him about 4 p.m. and was able to escort him to safety before 4 p.m.

Halsey said a controlled burn in the area was extinguished Monday, but “it is believed to have rekindled.” He said the cause remained under investigation.

The fire sent up huge plumes of smoke and prompted scores of residents to evacuate voluntarily although fewer than a dozen were at an emergency shelter the Red Cross northern Nevada chapter had set up at a community center in neighboring Welllington.

“I understand there is no control right now but that it is burning back up the hill at this point and appears to be burning further away from residences,” Red Cross spokesman Rod Poole said.

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