For January, the weather in Nevada is nowhere near what it should be. People are used to shovel the snow out of the driveway, not flee from firestorms. But nature has another thing coming, as on early Friday, a major wildfire in Reno forced thousands to flee and caused permanent damage in 20 homes.
This Friday, the morning hours found firefighters in Reno fighting to contain a fast-moving brush fire. According to official data, the fire occurred soon after noon Thursday and expanded considerably over the night thanks to wind gusts that reached 82 mph. By the time firefighters intervened, the fire expanded to an area over 6 square miles.
On Thursday afternoon, Governor Brian Sandoval declared a state of emergency. He said that “it’s inconceivable that this community has been struck by tragedy again”. In November, another fire occurred on the edge of the Sierra foothills, destroying 30 homes and burning 3 square miles.
Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez said that more than 10,000 people were urged to leave their homes until the fire is contained, while 2,000 of them remained under evacuation orders. The Fire Chief mentioned that the fire took one life, but declined to offer supplemental information on the matter, saying that an autopsy is required to determine and confirm the cause of death.
The authorities still don’t know what caused the fire, but apparently it broke out in a valley along the U.S. Highway 395. People report that the 40 feet high flames could be seen from Reno’s casino district, which is about 10 miles away. A portion of the Highway 395 was closed due to zero visibility and heavy smoke.
Washoe County Sheriff Mike Haley said that “the area burned is absolutely devastated”. He also added that about 300 elementary school students have been taken to an evacuation center, while deputies were asked to tell people in Pleasant Valley, Old Washoe Valley and Saint James Village to leave their homes.
Tim Leighton, Fire Chief of Sierra Nevada, told reporters that it was extremely unusual to be fighting a brush fire this late in the season adding that in 24 years he has never seen a fire season extend this long.