By Ricardo Lopez, Los Angeles Times –
A wind-whipped brush fire in a rural valley between Carson City and Reno forced more than 10,000 residents to flee and destroyed more than 20 homes, Nevada officials said Thursday night.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval declared a state of emergency shortly before 5 p.m. By evening, the blaze had grown to nearly 5 square miles.
“To say we’re in the thick of battle is an understatement,” Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez told reporters earlier. The news conference itself was almost postponed because authorities were set to widen the evacuation area to include the high school where the briefing took place.
Later, Hernandez said more than 20 homes had burned south of Reno and that one person had been killed, the Associated Press reported. Firefighters stopped the fire’s progress after nightfall when the winds abated and it began to rain.
A five-mile stretch of U.S. 395 was closed as winds up to 82 mph pushed the flames north toward Reno, Washoe County Sheriff’s Deputy Armando Avina said.
By nightfall, the blaze had reached the city’s southern outskirts, the Associated Press reported. Flames were visible from 10 miles away in the downtown casino district.
“It’s moving at a very fast rate,” Avina said earlier. “The winds are extremely powerful in this area.”
The winds also delayed Vice President Joe Biden, who was scheduled to speak in Reno at 11:30 a.m. That had to be delayed when fierce gusts forced Air Force Two to land in Fallon, about 60 miles east, The Reno Gazette-Journal reported.
By about 1:45 p.m., when Biden began speaking, the acrid smell of smoke wafted through Galena High School, the newspaper said. The vice president was soon told to wrap up his remarks because fire officials needed to use the school gym as a command center.
After nightfall, the winds died down and rain started to fall, delighting fire crews, the Associated Press reported. More wet weather was forecast Friday.
Residents are still recovering from a November wildfire, started by arcing power lines, that destroyed about 30 homes in south Reno. Hernandez called this blaze “almost a carbon copy.”