Silver Springs Fire under investigation

SILVER SPRINGS -- Sharron Royal and her daughter Mindy Warren heard the fire engines as they readied for bed in their Silver Springs home, where they have a front-yard view of the wood treatment plant where a fire broke out Tuesday night and caused the evacuation of about 200 surrounding homes.

"They sounded like they were moving away from us," Royal said of the sirens, but when she looked out her window she saw the flames licking the top of the 50-foot tanks holding various chemicals used to treat wood at Nevada Wood Preserving Corp.

Fire investigators were unable Wednesday to determine a cause for the fire, which damaged parts of the plant and destroyed one small out-building. Much of the plant was back in operation Wednesday.

The only reported injury was to Mason Valley Fire Chief Steve Tognolli, who slipped on ice and broke his arm.

Watching the fire Tuesday night, Royal said her first thought was the toxic fumes being carried in the thick black smoke pouring out of the site.

"I was afraid of the inhalation hazard," Royal said.

It didn't take a firefighter to evacuate them. The two listened intently to their scanner and, at first word of evacuation, they saddled up two of their four horses as their husbands loaded the rest of the family pets into cars.

Braving the 14-degree temperatures, Warren and Royal made their way by horseback -- each with a second horse on a lead -- two miles to a friend's hilltop home.

"At midnight we were building corrals," she said. "When you know you live that close to hazardous material, you have to have a plan."

Fortunately, by 1 a.m., the four were back at home, leaving the horses in the hastily built corrals for a morning ride back.

Other evacuated families gathered at a Red Cross shelter set up at Silver Stage Middle School. Some chose to wait at area casinos.

At 12:15 a.m. Wednesday a representative from the Red Cross told the 40 people in the gymnasium of the school they could go home.

Wednesday afternoon, investigators from the State Fire Marshal's Office, OSHA and Environmental Protection Agency were at the plant.

"Our investigation is on hold," said lead fire investigator Mary Ellen Holly, of the Central Lyon County Fire District, late Wednesday afternoon.

Holly said investigators must wait until any chemical spills or remaining foam used to extinguish the blaze is cleaned up before continuing.

"We need to have all of that pumped out. Basically what we need to look at is under that anyway," she said.

Holly believes the possibility of ground water contamination from the chemicals is unlikely. "The fire was contained to a concreted area. There was no leaching or breaching (into the soil). "

There are no indications by Wednesday afternoon what caused the fire, she said.

At least three-quarters of the plant situated on 100 desert acres near Lahontan Reservoir State Park was open for business Wednesday.

According to Central Lyon County Firefighter Mark Secrist, firefighters were well aware of the hazard from the flammable liquids stored in the cylinders. Because of that, crews wore masks and battled the blaze with foam.

The decision to evacuate came after seeing the thickness of the smoke, Secrist said.

"There was a lot of heavy black toxic smoke (moving east) and laying low," he said.

At one point, crews, stationed around various points of the fire were pulled out when the flames, fueled by chemicals, became more intense. Within four hours, Secrist said, the fire was contained.

One small out-building was destroyed in the blaze. A handful of employees at the site were unharmed.

At least 60 firefighters were on scene Tuesday night. Units from as far away as Yerington joined Fallon, Churchill, Fernley and Central Lyon firefighters in the effort.

Warren and Royal said panic doesn't describe how they felt; it was more like determination.

"We knew what we had to do and did it," Warren said.


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