Homes lost, hundreds evacuated in Pleasant Valley wildland fire | NevadaAppeal.com

Homes lost, hundreds evacuated in Pleasant Valley wildland fire

by F.T. Norton

photos by Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Pleasant Valley residents scramble to escape as the Andrew fire overruns the south end of Neilson Road on Wednesday afternoon. The 2,500-acre fire destroyed homes in Pleasant Valley area.

PLEASANT VALLEY – Hearing there was a wildland fire threatening her Andrew Lane home Wednesday, Mary Bartell called a neighbor from her Carson City office and asked him to free her three rescue dogs left penned in her back yard.

Two hours later, under a smoky, orange sky and near flames that laced a Highway 395 hillside, Bartell, her fiance Gary Schmidt and some strangers were able to round up her two black chows Bear Bear and Luke.

“But people saw Xion fall,” the attorney said of her third chow, which she described as big, white and beautiful. “She must have collapsed and died from the terror.”

Bartell’s home backs up to federal land where authorities believe a spark from someone’s noontime target practice ignited the more than 2,500-acre blaze.

By the time she made the 30-minute drive from Carson City to the entrance of Andrew Lane, law enforcement denied her passage to her home.

“We don’t know the fate of our house. We couldn’t even get anything out,” she said.

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About 350 homes in Pleasant Valley south of Reno were threatened and hundreds of families were evacuated. By 6 p.m., seven structures were reported destroyed.

“Now, that could be barns, outhouses, chicken coops or homes,” clarified Mark Struble, information officer for Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center.

Lori McCleary’s home on Del Mesa drive survived, but she knows at least one of those structures was her neighbor’s house.

“A home two houses west of us burned and the roof was burned on the one directly across the street,” she said.

McCleary was at work in Reno when she saw the smoke and called another neighbor who confirmed there was a fire.

She and her husband, Patrick, rushed home and were able to evacuate two horses, two dogs and a goat. Then they helped everyone else get out.

“I still have my home,” she said gratefully. She was allowed to return by 7 p.m. “We’ve got a lot of smoke damage, but we’ll get through that.”

With no other major fires in the West, Struble said, “We’ve got quite an air show going on.”

Fourteen tankers and seven helicopters dropped slurry and water on the flames fueled by 45-mph winds. The fire crept northeast to the Virginia Highlands subdivision at the foot of Geiger Grade.

Additional crews and equipment ordered from agencies throughout the West were on their way to reinforce those from Reno and surrounding counties.

There was no official estimate Wednesday night on when containment will be reached.

Storey County firefighters went to work cutting fire breaks and setting up structure protection crews at about 2 p.m. for homes in the Virginia Highlands.

Sheriff Pat Whitten said the first few hours of the fire were chaotic, but once his emergency procedures were in place, he was able to breathe.

“Our fire manager was very concerned by the initial path of the fire. We are still watching the path,” he said at about 7 p.m. as Geiger Grade was reopened for traffic.

“From this vantage point up here we are cautiously optimistic, but again with Nevada winds, anything can happen.”

Franklin Pemberton, fire information officer, said the fire is burning in grass, brush and in piñon and juniper trees left dry from drought.

“The reason we are seeing more fires near homes is a combination of a lot of factors,” he said. “It’s incredibly dry and with more and more people moving to the area, and more and more people outdoors, there is more chance for fires to start from human beings.”

In June, the Waterfall fire, believed to have started from an unattended, illegal campfire, burned uncontrolled in the west Carson City canyons for nearly a week. A total of 18 homes were lost in the capital city blaze and thousands of people were evacuated. It burned 8,723 acres.

Contact F.T. Norton at ftnorton@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1213.