Fire causes phone outage in Virginia City

VIRGINIA CITY -- No injuries were reported in a fire that destroyed a house at 1624 C St. on Virginia City's south side, but the blaze melted the historic town's telephone cables.

"I had to dispatch calls from my cell phone during the fire," said Storey County Sheriff Pat Whitten.

He said the owners of the home ran across the street to a neighbor's home to report the fire about 10:43 p.m. Thursday. The couple's pets, a dog and a cat, also made it out safely, but the cat is still missing.

The fire, which has been ruled accidental, started outside and just south of the wood-frame, single-family house.

Joe Curtis, investigator for the Storey County Fire Department, said Thursday night's winds fanned the flames to the northeast. Once the fire reached the house's open attic, it burned rapidly, spreading to the residents' late-model sedan and into nearby brush. An older model pickup truck was damaged. Its tail lights melted and paint were blistered.

Curtis said it took about 90 minutes to control the fire, which was completely out by 3:30 a.m. Friday.

The house was a contemporary home in a neighborhood dominated by 19th-century Victorians. Some brush on the opposite side of the street was burned. During the night, firefighters patrolled nearby neighborhoods, watching for sparks that could be carried on the wind.

Fire units from Virginia City, Silver City, the Nevada Division of Forestry and Central Lyon County helped douse the fire.

Crews from Nevada Bell worked around the clock to repair the three large cables severed in the blaze. Nevada Bell spokeswoman Jenny Conradi said residents within the affected area could call each other, but could not call out or receive calls.

More than 1,000 customers from Virginia City, Silver City, Gold Hill and the Virginia Highlands had no outside phone service for about 14 hours. Service was restored about noon Friday.

"The good news is that 911 calls were not impacted," she said. "All 911 calls were redirected to seven-digit number, connecting them directly with the Storey County Sheriff's Department."

Storey County lost its 911 system last Saturday. The incident is still under investigation, according to Jerry Pedersen, commander of Storey County's detention dispatch operations facility.

"Anyone within the county calling 911 was not connected," he said. "To the best of our knowledge, some components failed."

He said the failure was first noted about 9 a.m. Saturday. The system has built-in safeguards. After a failure, calls are supposed to be automatically transferred to the Carson City dispatch, but that transfer didn't occur. The system is owned and operated by Nevada Bell.

"Nevada Bell is still trying to figure out what happened to cause the failure," he said. "We have a meeting with them next Friday and, hopefully, they'll have an answer."


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