Gov. Kenny Guinn declared a state of emergency as state and federal crews put practically every available piece of equipment on the lines to combat dozens of lightning-sparked fires that have burned 125 square miles of Nevada.
More than 1,000 firefighters on Wednesday were battling dozens of fires, from a 57,000-acre blaze burning out of control largely in uninhabited rangeland in northeast Nevada to a complex of a dozen smaller fires around Reno and Carson City that forced evacuations at the town of Mound House along the historic Pony Express Trail.
"We're stretched about as thin as possible," said Jeff Arnberger, assistant fire management officer for the Bureau of Land Management in Elko, where the largest fires were burning.
"Thankfully our neighbors from around Nevada and across the country are giving us a hand," he said.
The series of fires that threatened 300 homes and businesses at Mound House late Monday night grew to 6,000 acres overnight and looped around Carson City on the eastern front of the Sierra, sending a mile-long snake of fire down a hillside near McClellan Peak.
As many as a 200 homes remained threatened there late Tuesday afternoon as fire crews endured a third consecutive day of temperatures in the 90s, low humidity, strong erratic winds and dry lightning.
Federal fire managers were sending a Type I team - the army of firefighters assigned to national priority fires - to take control of that attack on what they dubbed the "Sierra-Tahoe complex."
"Resources are scarce because of all the other fires in the Western United States right now. But this will make it the highest priority," said Mike Dondero, fire management officer for the Nevada Division of Forestry. "We have about a dozen fires in the Reno-Carson City area."
The 125 square miles of land that has burned since lightning bolts started sparking fires over the weekend amounts to about 80,000 acres.
No structures have burned nor injuries reported so far. But there have been a number of close calls, including 2,800 acres worth of fires that threatened homes in Palomino Valley and Lemmon Valley on the outskirts of north Reno Monday night.
"Everywhere I looked there was just fire after fire, everywhere you turned your head," said Nate Bourne, who helped his wife load their dogs and valuables into a vehicle in preparation to evacuate Lemmon Valley late Tuesday.
"You think that everything you cherish in the world is in that house. It's a scary, scary thought," he told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Guinn issued a proclamation at noon Tuesday declaring a state of emergency statewide,
"The state of Nevada is doing everything possible to assist those battling the large number of wildfires currently raging throughout northern Nevada," he said. He said the declaration will give local governments a leg up in seeking federal assistance to restore depleted firefighting resources given "a significant amount of time remains in the fire season."
Despite continued threats, a number of people returned to their homes and businesses around Mound House, including the Moonlite Bunny Ranch brothel.
"The girls were back by two this morning," said a bartender who gave only the name of Wendy. "We're back in business and we've got business."
The biggest fire in northeast Nevada, the Suzie fire, had consumed an estimated 57,000 acres of sagebrush and grass from Carlin about 20 miles west of Elko to a state highway leading out of Elko to the Idaho state line. It closed Interstate 80 for about 3 hours on Monday and nearly doubled in size during the afternoon when a storm cell settled directly over the fire.
Just east of that, the Elburz fire blackened 12,600 acres and the Sneekee fire in the Red Springs Wilderness Study Area 35 miles southwest of Elko was estimated at 6,000 acres of grass and brush.
Eight Clark County firefighters, a wildfire coordinator and two engines were dispatched late Monday to the Elburz fire - a trip of more than 400 miles.
The Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center in Minden, Nev., said at least 16 new fires had been reported since the storms passed Monday afternoon through its jurisdiction covering much of western Nevada and northeastern California along the Sierra Nevada.
About 100 miles north of Reno, two other wildfires that began Sunday also continued to burn, including one that had burned about 3,000 acres near Gerlach but was reported to be 70 percent contained Monday night.
On the outskirts of Susanville in northeastern California, a lightning strike sparked a 625-acre blaze, prompting the evacuation of 100 homes Monday, fire officials said. Residents were allowed to return a few hours later, said Jeff Fontana, spokesman for the Susanville Interagency Fire Center. No injuries were reported and no buildings were destroyed and by midday Tuesday, it was 70 percent contained, he said.
About 250 firefighters also were battling 10 separate blazes Tuesday on remote land around Susanville owned by the BLM, Fontana said.
"The biggest is 2,000 acres, the smallest is several acres," he said.
Written by Associated Press
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