Fire-response report will be issued Wednesday
Fire agencies will issue a full report detailing emergency response Wednesday morning to the Waterfall fire, officials said.
Several details remain to be clarified in the early-morning incident, and the response has concerned some residents. The U.S. Forest Service has assembled a minute-by-minute record, and the Carson City Sheriff’s Department will review its dispatch logs.
Officials from both agencies were unsure when the final report will be made public.
USFS Carson District Ranger Gary Schiff said the fire moved quickly after exploding inside Kings Canyon. One resident said it took only 13 minutes for the fire to go from the canyon explosion to his property.
Between 3:15 and 6:30 a.m., nine federal and state engines were on the fire. Half of those were hand crews who descended onto the fire. The other half began laying hoses. Two hand crews were ordered at 3:38 a.m., but didn’t arrive until 3:50 a.m.
The fire was reported at 2:57, according to the sheriff’s dispatch. Acting Carson City Fire Chief Stacey Giomi said city engines were in the vicinity within 5 to 7 minutes.
The area, however, is steep and inaccessible. Crews faced extreme danger as they watched fire jump from treetop to treetop in explosive fury, Giomi said. It is not yet determined if any firefighters began descending at that time.
Fearing loss of life, authorities quickly pulled hand crews out shortly after they began hiking in.
“The biggest exacerbation was the access was so tough,” said State Forester Pete Anderson of the Nevada Department of Forestry. “When the fire started, trying to get people in there was so dangerous.”
Fire commanders on scene quickly realized they were dealing with something beyond local abilities. The U.S. Forest Service petitioned for federal assistance within hours.
Air support was ordered almost immediately, but federal law mandates they couldn’t respond to the fire until first light. Two heavy airtankers remained grounded in Minden that morning, though they were cleared to fly later in the week. A Bureau of Land Management Battle Mountain airtanker and one from Grand Junction, Colo., were flown in to help instead.
A third plane came from Cedar City in southern Utah. Five small, single-engine tankers fought the fire that day, with twin-rotor Chinook helicopters from the Nevada National Guard.
Once air support began retardant and water drops, hand crews were let back in. Two became trapped, requiring a rescue after one firefighter broke a leg and another suffered a neck injury. Hand crews again retreated, Giomi said.
Carson City lost a heavy-rescue unit, and an ambulance was burned in the rescue.
The fire expanded quickly at a time when fire agencies are not accustomed to a catastrophic situation, Schiff said.
“In a wildland fire, we’re geared for a 3 p.m. explosion of fire, not generally a 3 a.m.,” Schiff said.
A sheriff’s department dispatch log shows how quickly law enforcement responded. The log begins at 3 a.m., when flames were reported above Kings Canyon. Several residents then began calling in sightings.
“It’s quite a distance, however, it’s burning very rapidly,” one patrol deputy said at 3:24 a.m. Sheriff reserves were called in, and traffic was diverted.
By 5:09 a.m., sheriff’s deputies shut off access to Kings Canyon Road at Longview. By 8:15 a.m., the area was evacuated. A SWAT team was called in to get residents out shortly after that.
At 1:09 p.m., dispatch called for an immediate withdrawal.
“Move down fast,” an operator said. “All units return downhill.”
At 1:15 p.m.: “Fire really accelerated – there’s a lot of people up there that have been told to evacuate. We can’t go back up – fire on both sides.”
“Looky-loos” began causing problems by 1:18 p.m.
“People are driving up C Hill to the ridge. Lookie loos are going up the hill’s dirt access road. Per Division of Forestry, they are going to get killed.
“We are working on C Hill people to get them down,” a deputy reported.
Contact Jill Lufrano at email@example.com or 881-1217.