100,000 acres burning in Nevada; pioneer trail threatened
RENO, Nev. (AP) – Bone-dry conditions and gusty winds fueled a series of large wild fires across northern Nevada again Sunday, including a 69,000-acre blaze that closed a railroad line and threatened a stretch of the historic California Trail north of Battle Mountain.
Temperatures in the 90s and humidity readings in single digits hampered the more than 1,500 firefighters working Nevada fire lines literally from border to border. Winds were gusting to 25 to 30 miles per hour in some places.
”When you get the very low humidity down to 7 or 8 percent, even the green, live vegetation burns,” said Mark Struble, a fire information officer for the Bureau of Land Management.
More than 100,000 acres has burned since Wednesday in Nevada’s seven largest fires.
The biggest danger to homes was along the California-Nevada border, where four air tankers dropped retardant and two dozen bulldozers cut fire lines early Sunday to help protect about 25 residences from a 12,000-acre fire in the Sierra 10 miles east of Doyle, Calif.
Afternoon winds dropped off to about 15 miles per hour and none of the 25 homes was in harms way later Sunday, interagency fire spokesman Kirk Frosdick said from Doyle, about 40 miles northwest of Reno.
”I think a lot of people are feeling better. We’re getting really lucky,” he said.
The Sheep fire 25 miles north of Battle Mountain – named after the big horn sheep that call the rugged high desert area home – nearly doubled in size to 69,000 acres Sunday as winds up to 30 mph kept changing directions.
”It’s quite a wind storm. It’s just swirling all over the darn place,” interagency fire spokesman Nick Zufelt said.
More than 400 firefighters were on the scene, but they need more help, he said. The fire was estimated to be only 10 percent contained with full containment nowhere in sight, Zufelt said.
A stretch of the Union Pacific railroad was closed for a few hours Sunday and large plumes of smoke and flames were visible from Interstate 80 near Battle Mountain.
”There’s so many fires around that there’s a big demand for resources so they are not coming in as fast as we were hoping,” Zufelt said.
The other big fires included a 12,000-acre fire 7 miles north of Winnemucca and a 7,500-acre fire threatening a national forest wilderness along the Utah border west of Jarbidge, Nev.
Across the border in California, the Observation fire has burned 30,000 acres east of Ravendale, about 30 miles northeast of Susanville.
Most of the fires were burning out of control with full containment not projected for days – at least until Wednesday night in the case of the Fish fire 5 miles east of Doyle, Calif. In addition to four air tankers, about 570 firefighters, 30 fire engines and two helicopters were attacking that fire Sunday but it still was only 20 percent contained.
”We’ve still got a ways to go on this fire,” said Struble, who watched aspen stands explode in 60-foot flames.
Four minor injuries have been reported there, including a twisted knee, sprained ankle and cut cornea. At one point Friday night, a wall of flames Struble described as a ”fire tornado” forced two Forest Service firefighters to deploy their emergency fire shelters. No one was hurt in that incident but it is under investigation by a team of Forest Service and BLM officials from the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
Several of the fires in Nevada have been burning since last Wednesday when a thunderstorm pounded the tinder dry range with 1,200 lightning strikes in a matter of hours. Many parts of the state are in the middle of their driest year in a century – in Reno, the driest on record since 1872.
About 400 firefighters were building a new fire line and reinforcing roads Sunday at the Murphy fire 8 miles west of Jarbidge. It has burned 7,510 acres in an area considered key elk and deer winter range and was harming air quality in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest’s Jarbidge Wilderness, officials said
It was estimated to be 50 percent contained with full containment projected Monday.
Firefighters were making some of their best progress on a series of fires burning north of Winnemucca.
The biggest, the Krum fire, has burned more than 12,000 acres about 7 miles north of town. But the 56 crew members had it 80 percent contained Sunday and a threat to a mining explosives storage shed had subsided.
”The storage facility is a half mile west of U.S. 95 about 6 miles north of Winnemucca and the fire activity is some distance to the west of that, and moving southwest,” BLM spokesman Jamie Thompson said.
Another fire 80 miles north of Winnemucca, the Quinn River fire, had burned 950 acres. It has threatened livestock and big horn sheep habitat, but the 63 firefighters there had it 90 percent contained.
And another fire 75 miles north-northwest of Winnemucca had burned 500 acres, but 106 firefighters had that Jordan Meadows fire 40 percent contained.
Steep, rocky terrain was hampering the 126 firefighters working the Bull Basin fire, which has burned 1,000 acres 75 miles north of Reno. It was 40 percent contained and expected to be fully contained by Monday.