Firefighters battle smoke, terrain, record heat
RENO – Firefighters battled another day of triple digit temperatures, choking smoke and difficult terrain on Monday as they challenged lightning-sparked wildland fires that blackened more than 245 square miles across northern Nevada but spared dozens of homes.
The 24,400-acre Thomas fire burned into the back yards of a residential area of Winnemucca, about 170 miles east of Reno, but was stopped short of the houses. An electrical substation and a handful of outbuildings were destroyed.
Calmer winds aided crews on Monday, according to fire spokesman Pete Jankowski, although temperatures peaked at 102 degrees.
“We’ve made a lot of progress. The weather’s really cooperating,” he said.
Jankowski said the weekend winds of 30-40 mph were extreme while Monday’s 10-15 mph breezes were more predictable.
About 1,500 evacuees were allowed to return home on Sunday.
Initial reports by officials that the 32-square-mile blaze had damaged an unknown number of homes proved untrue after crews were able to scour the area, Jankowski said.
The fire also shut down Interstate 80, delayed Union Pacific and Amtrak trains and killed livestock. No injuries were reported.
“It was pretty hairy for quite a while and people thought they would go back to nothing,” Humboldt County Undersheriff Curtiss Kull said. “It was a huge wall of flame coming at the homes. It’s amazing that no homes were lost.”
Jamie Thompson, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, said a 10-mile-long fire line that had previously been installed around much of the town played a major role in keeping damage to a minimum.
“We’re working on getting containment lines in. Hopefully, we’ll do that by the middle of the week if the activity calms down,” Jankowski said.
The fire was 10 percent contained Monday afternoon, but no estimate was provided as far as when full containment would be reached.
Since Friday afternoon, about two dozen lightning-caused wildfires had blackened some 157,000 acres of rangeland across northern Nevada.
One Nevada fire had scorched about 90 square miles, or 58,000 acres, about 25 miles west of Winnemucca and was 20 percent contained at last report.
Another blaze near Jackpot along the Idaho line had blackened 92 square miles, or 59,000 acres, and was 15 percent contained.
In western Nevada, a 18,000-acre fire 10 miles south of Silver Springs was 15 percent contained. Full containment of the 26-square-mile fire was expected by Friday evening.
The fires near Winnemucca shut down the interstate off and on Saturday. It also delayed an eastbound Amtrak train by 91Ú2 hours and six Union Pacific trains for varying amounts of time.
“They shut down the line because we couldn’t safely go through,” Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole said. “There was power on the train and the passengers never deboarded the train. They gave them announcements of what was going on.”
Type 1 fire management teams on Sunday took over command of both the fires near Winnemucca and the Idaho line.
“We’re starting to get more resources from outside the area into Elko County which is a big plus,” Interagency Dispatch Center Manager Bill Roach said. “It allows us to get our local resources back and available for initial attack for any new fire starts.”
Today, expect sunny skies in the morning to become mostly cloudy as scattered showers and thunderstorms move in in the afternoon.
A fire weather watch will be in effect from this afternoon through the evening. The thunderstorms are expected to produce a significant amount of lightning and strong erratic outflow winds between 40 and 60 mph.
Smoke from area fires will hang in the valleys until winds pick up out of the west at 10 mph. Highs are expected between 90 to 100.
Tonight’s forecast calls for mostly cloudy skies, isolated showers and thunderstorms with lows 61-71. Winds around 10 mph in the evening will become light.