ELKO — Hundreds of residents of two rural northeast Nevada communities were being allowed to return to their homes Tuesday to assess damage from a raging wildfire that destroyed several residences in Elko County and shut down a stretch of Interstate 80 for several hours.
An evacuation advisory also was lifted in western Nevada on Tuesday for a tribal community threatened by another wildfire burning north of Reno.
No serious injuries have been reported at either fire. But authorities estimate at least 14 homes were damaged or destroyed by the Oilwell Fire that broke out northeast of Elko on Monday and has burned more than 11 square miles of brush and rangeland.
Elko County canceled a civil emergency and lifted evacuation orders Tuesday for the town of Osino and the Whiterock area straddling the interstate about 90 miles west of the Utah line.
I-80 traffic was moving unrestricted in both directions, but the situation was fluid and could change, Nevada Department of Transportation spokeswoman Meg Ragonese said.
More than 500 homes were threatened at one time, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which authorized the use of federal funds Tuesday to help fight the fire. FEMA also approved assistance for the Long Valley Fire north of Reno.
The American Red Cross opened an evacuation shelter at Elko High School, and local ranchers were helping house displaced livestock.
That fire was believed to be started by humans because there was no lightning in the area. The cause remained under investigation, however.
The state applied for the federal assistance within hours of when the blaze was reported. It will allow the state to be reimbursed for up to 75 percent of the firefighting costs.
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, praised the federal agency for its quick action. “Fires across Northern Nevada have shut down highways, threatened homes and property, and put lives at risk. These are our family members, friends, and our neighbors,” Heller said in a statement Tuesday.
Residents of Sutcliffe also were returning to their homes Tuesday on the edge of Pyramid Lake about 35 miles northeast of Reno. State Route 445 also was reopened.
About 900 firefighters remained on the lines of the wind-driven blaze that has burned 130 square miles of grass, sagebrush and scrubby pines since it broke out last Tuesday just west of the California-Nevada line.
The Southern California Interagency incident management team in charge of the fire estimated it was 40 percent contained.
The team reported Tuesday forward progression of the flames was held overnight and the situation “looks much better today.” However it said strong winds and very low humidity were expected again Tuesday afternoon and could cause fire behavior to intensify.
The National Weather Service had issued a red flag warning for the entire Northern half of Nevada from California to Utah until 8 p.m., and extended it until 11 p.m. for the northeast corner of the state where winds were forecast to gust up to 35 mph.