COLEVILLE - The fire that forced more than 100 units of U.S. Marine housing residents from their homes Monday night was started by four youths who had built a cooking fire, said Murray Shoemaker, fire information officer for the Eastern Great Basin incident management team.
Shoemaker said the fire escaped when a gust of wind blew embers into nearby brush. The youths attempted to put out the fire, but it spread rapidly, he said. The fire was investigated by the U.S. Forest Service's Law Enforcement and the Mono County Sheriff's Office. The report has been submitted to the Mono County District Attorney's Office for review. The office will determine whether the youths will be prosecuted.
Marines and their families were allowed to return to their homes Tuesday morning after fire crews fought all night to contain a potentially devastating blaze that threatened to wipe out the government housing subdivision two miles north of Coleville.
"The fire came within 15 to 20 feet of some houses. The local fire units must have just done a spectacular job. They really knocked it down before it got to those homes," said Franklin Pemberton, spokesman for the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Carson Ranger District. "It's very impressive."
Known as the Vittori Fire, the latest of four fires near Coleville quickly grew to 900 acres. The Cole, Post and Dana fires consumed a total of 2,188 acres since they began from lighting strikes Friday, said Shoemaker.
The Vittori Fire broke out behind the Marines' single-family housing subdivision about 3 p.m. Driven by high winds, it quickly spread up, down and across slopes, burning its full 900 acres in just four hours.
Marine families were evacuated about 7 p.m. Monday.
Several hundred people who lost power at 4 p.m. Monday had it restored at 3:15 Tuesday, said Gary Aldax, spokesman for Sierra Pacific Power Co.
According to Maj. Scott Pierce, operations officer at the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, where the active-duty Marines are stationed, families were hosted at the Topaz Lodge and Bridgeport Inn for free.
"We're part of the community, and they wanted to help their neighbors," he said.
By Monday, the Cole and Post fires were 100 percent contained.
Crews on Tuesday continued to build a fire line on the south and north ends of the Dana Fire and mopped up hot spots using helicopter bucket drops. The Slinkard Creek held the fire's west flank. The aim is to tie the Vittori and Dana fires together, requiring less fireline digging and time, Shoemaker said.
Slinkard Valley Road at the junction to Highway 89 remained closed Tuesday; however, Highway 395 was open, Shoemaker said.
Coleville, on California's eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, is 50 miles south of Carson City.
Contact F.T. Norton at email@example.com or 881-1213.