RENO, Nev. (AP) — A trio of wind-whipped wildfires burning along the Sierra Nevada on Friday destroyed 19 homes north of Carson City, forced hundreds of evacuations at Lake Tahoe and temporarily closed a major highway connecting Reno to the mountain lake.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval declared a state of emergency as hundreds of firefighters battled the most dangerous fire, which was still threatening dozens of homes in the Washoe Valley along U.S. Highway 395 between Reno and Carson City.
The wildland blazes forced the closures of numerous schools and roads, and triggered widespread power outages near the Nevada-California line.
The so-called Little Valley fire broke out about 1:30 a.m. in the mountains between Lake Tahoe and Washoe Valley about 8 miles north of Carson City. It has burned about 3 square miles, Truckee Meadows Fire Battalion Chief Alex Kukulus said.
“We’ve made good progress on the homes we are currently protecting,” Kukulus told reporters Friday afternoon.
But “we are not out of the woods,” he said. “We have active fire in the whole area and still no real containment.”
A fire engine suffered significant damage but no injuries have been reported. In addition to the homes, seven large barns and seven other out-buildings have burned, fire officials said.
More than 4,000 residents remained without power Friday afternoon, mostly in southwest Reno.
Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District Chief Charles Moore said the cause of the biggest blaze was under investigation. But he said it started in an area where a controlled burn was conducted earlier this week.
About 360 firefighters were manning the lines and another 500 were on the way to the scene, Kukulus said, some from as far away as the San Francisco Bay Area.
“When we ramp this thing up this evening, we hope to have 1,000 firefighters in the area,” he said.
More than 100 homes and ranches are scattered throughout the rural valley bordering Washoe Lake. The ones that have burned are along the forested edge of the valley where it meets the eastern front of the Sierra just west of the lake.
Some rain has helped crews working in difficult terrain, and the winds that were gusting in excess of 50 mph died down a bit as the day grew on, Kukulus said.
He was hopeful the winds would subside enough to allow for the use of some helicopters or air tankers. But he said the winds are expected to pick up again later in the day, and again Saturday.
“We have lots of air ordered up, but yet to put any up because of the wind,” Kukulus said. “They are ready at a moment’s notice.”
Evacuation centers were set up in Reno and Carson City for displaced residents as well as pets and livestock.
The governor left a special session of the Legislature in Carson City to get a briefing on the situation. The fire delayed the start of the session, where lawmakers were voting on a proposed increase in the hotel tax in Las Vegas as part of a plan to build a football stadium they hope will lure the NFL’s Raiders to Vegas.
The fire that prompted the evacuation of 500 homes on the south end of Lake Tahoe was estimated to be 50 percent contained, thanks in part to rain showers from the storm packing winds that gusted in excess of 100 mph over Sierra ridgetops early Friday.
The El Dorado County sheriff ordered 500 homes evacuated between Emerald Bay and South Lake Tahoe, California. That fire has burned about 200 acres and forced the closure of part of California Highway 89.
Several elementary schools, a high school and the Redfield campus of the University of Nevada, Reno were closed.
Firefighters had all but snuffed out another fire that destroyed at least one structure and had temporarily closed the Mount Rose Highway connecting Reno to Lake Tahoe.
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