COLEVILLE, Calif. - High winds and rough terrain were hampering firefighters in their battle Saturday against a 726-acre wildfire that threatened a rare fish along the eastern Sierra Nevada.
"It looked like it was erupting from a volcano," said Topaz Ranch Estates resident Jonni Hill at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. "Right now,... the column of smoke is going straight up again. But it is not as big, bad and ugly as it was before. Let's hope it doesn't take off."
Fire information officer Franklin Pemberton said about 250 firefighters built a containment line around some of the blaze but he was unsure how much of it was surrounded.
He said there was no immediate threat to any homes, but down-canyon gusts of 40 mph could push the blaze toward a Marine housing unit north of Coleville, located about 80 miles south of Reno.
The facility, which is about two miles from the fire, is for those at the nearby U.S. Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Pickel Meadows near Sonora Pass.
Pemberton said an undetermined number of homes and structures in the Holbrook Junction and Topaz Lake areas of Nevada no longer were in danger from the fire.
Firefighters were more concerned that the fire was threatening habitat for the Lahontan cutthroat trout, Pemberton said.
The federal government listed the fish as endangered in 1970, with its status reclassified to threatened five years later. The cutthroats have been kept alive through federal, state and tribal hatchery programs.
"At this point, they're working hard to keep the Slinkard Creek watershed out of harm's way for the trout," Pemberton said.
The fire shut down U.S. 395 from the Nevada line to Bridgeport on Friday night, but the highway reopened Saturday morning. Authorities continue to urge caution while driving in the area due to the potential for heavy smoke and emergency vehicle traffic.
Firefighters gained the upper hand Saturday on two smaller wildfires in the area - the Cole Fire at 63 acres and the Post Fire at 9 acres.
Pemberton said all three blazes, known together as the Cole Complex Fire, were sparked by lightning either Friday or Thursday.
Seven helicopters and four air tankers were assisting firefighters.
There was no estimated containment time for the blaze burning in brush and piñon-juniper timber.
The fire also was threatening habitat for mule deer, Pemberton said.