About 20 members of the Washoe Tribe came close to containing a one-acre fire in a vacant lot bordered by Boyle and Oneida streets on the west side of Carson City's Washoe Tribal Colony at about 11:35 a.m. Sunday.
Tribal members armed with shovels battled the blaze arriving ahead of fire crews from the Bureau of Land Management, the Nevada Division of Forestry and the Carson City Fire Department. As fire crews moved to mop up the blaze, members of the Washoe tribe picked up their shovels and moved away.
There were no injuries and no structures were damaged, but flames spread rapidly to within 15 feet of one house, and one camper was destroyed.
"I was at the store when I saw the smoke," Jean McNicoll, owner of the house immediately south of the fire said as she stood with garden hose in hand. "I thought it got my house. It almost got Betty Steele's house. . . It was scary."
The vacant lot, mostly brush and stored firewood, was charred to within about 15 feet of the Steele house.
"The fire could have easily gone up hill, and grabbed at least one of those houses," Carson City Fire Department Battalion Chief Richard Chrzanowski said, noting there was still much to be done when fire crews arrived. Not everyone agreed.
Steele's grandson Sean Haggerty had much praise for tribal members who fought the blaze. About 10 neighbors formed a line between the house and the fire.
He also said most of the Native Americans who fought the fire had previously worked on fire crews.
"About 95 percent have at least some training," Haggerty said. "Everybody's a brother, even though they're not related. It happens every time there's a fire. . . . They saved my grandmother's house."
Officials believe a mower-tractor driven by Carson City employee Vernon Makussen started the fire as he cut a narrow swath adjacent to Boyle Street. Part of the mechanism hit a rock, sparking and igniting the dry brush. Makussen said he was "a little shook."
"Normally, if there's a spark it won't do anything," said Gary Johnson, an assistant fire management officer with BLM. Johnson said the extreme dry conditions were the chief cause of the fire. No citations were issued.