Reno fire marshal: Same conditions caused losses

RENO " A brush fire that destroyed six Reno homes was similar to one that claimed four houses in the same neighborhood four years ago, due in part to homeowners' failure to clear "defensible space," a fire official said today.

Like the 2004 blaze started by two boys playing with fireworks, firefighters had little chance to respond Monday before the blaze raced up a north Reno hillside choked with sage brush and dry grasses and spread to the backs of homes.

"What is really frustrating is to have a second devastating fire occur in the same area under basically the same conditions despite the amount of information that has been made available over the years through public education programs that promote defensible space," Reno Fire Marshal Bill Burney said Tuesday.

Fire investigators were checking reports that juveniles were seen leaving a drainage area at the bottom of the hill about the time the fire was reported just before 3 p.m.

Within an hour, flames fanned by winds gusting up to 20 mph destroyed six homes and damaged a seventh, causing an estimated $2 million in damage, Burney said.

One resident who lives four houses away from Monday's fire said that following the 2004 blaze he cleared 27 bags of sagebrush from the hill behind his house.

"My house would be gone if I didn't," Lee Siegel, 51, told a Reno newspaper.

"I wish they would recommend people would clean up their sage brush in their backyard," he said.

Siegel recalled how he tried in vain to extinguish flames moving toward his home four years ago.

"A (garden) hose like that doesn't do anything against a fire like that," he said. "My shirt caught on fire that year, that's how hot it was. I learned my lesson from that year."

Burney said homeowners should clear dead and dying vegetation within at least 30 feet of structures, including fences and decks. The fire marshal said a larger area may need to be treated around homes on hillsides, where flames burn uphill quickly. Tree limbs should be trimmed so they are at least 10 to 12 feet above the ground.

"Uncontrolled wildland fires pose a serious threat to lives, property, and natural resources throughout the region," Burney said, especially where structures and other human developments "meet or intermingle with wildland areas of brush, grass or timber."

The interagency cooperative Living With Fire is a good resource for detailed descriptions of how to treat specific pieces of land, he said. It is made up of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Nevada Association of Counties, Nevada Fire Safe Council, Nevada Division of Forestry, Nevada Insurance Council, Sierra Front Wildfire Cooperators, and the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension


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