A grim view of Carson’s western hills | NevadaAppeal.com

A grim view of Carson’s western hills

Barry Smith

Carson City’s scorched west side was a grim sight on Thursday morning.

The Waterfall Fire was still burning deep in the hills, and even inside the Nevada Appeal’s office there lingered the acrid smell from Wednesday afternoon when smoke engulfed the whole town and, for a time, made us all wonder just how far the flames would go.

Along South Curry Street it was remarkable to me to see how the fire had burned right down to the road but hadn’t crossed, as far as I could tell, behind the Nevada State Railroad Museum.

I haven’t ventured up Kings Canyon, but from the pictures I’ve seen and the reports I’ve heard it’s a devastating scene. I feel so sorry for people who lost their homes. I can’t imagine. Fortunately, no one died.

Back in January, when editors at the Appeal started planning the series on wildfires we published over the Memorial Day weekend, we decided one way to tell the story was to imagine a fire scenario that would threaten Carson City.

The scenario described by Carson City Fire Department leaders was almost exactly as Wednesday’s fire happened.

Although we chose Clear Creek Canyon as the setting for our fictional fire, the real one began in Kings Canyon. Sadly, it appears the cause may be some teenagers who started a bonfire.

We’d like to think nobody could be so stupid, but the blackened hillsides will be evidence for a long time that somebody can be so oblivious to the consequences of their actions.

Walking my dog on Wednesday morning near Seeliger School, I noticed the plume of smoke rising from behind C Hill. I wondered how a fire could have started up there, but it didn’t look too bad at that point.

Lots of people along the west side thought the same thing. They weren’t too worried, even as it spread and grew.

Quite a few people are wondering, though, whether the initial response to the fire was quick enough and strong enough. I don’t have a clear picture yet of who did what or exactly when, so it’s hard to say at this point. I do know fire officials were well aware how quickly the smallest fire could roar out of control.

By noon, it still didn’t look too bad from the vantage point of most of us watching from town. I don’t know what it was like in Kings Canyon, but it still seemed like the fire could be controlled before it got too far.

By about 1 p.m., though, it was a different story. The wind came up and the fight was on. Through the afternoon, it just got scarier and scarier.

It’s clear that firefighters made some determined stands to protect neighborhoods, such as those below C Hill and the battle along Curry Street. On the north end of town, the lines held up near Western Nevada Community College. That’s how close it was.

I used to be a reporter covering wildfires. Now, it’s my job to worry about the reporters and photographers who are out covering wildfires.

Reporter Fran Norton and photographer Cathleen Allison were seeing most of the action, and they were in fairly regular contact with editor Kelli Du Fresne. Still, every time the fire turned we wondered where they were and hoped they were staying safe.

I trust them to use good judgment. But I also know how I was when I was in the thick of the biggest story of the year, or maybe the biggest story you’ll ever cover. The tendency isn’t to back away; the tendency is to keep edging closer to the front.

Eventually, about 16 hours after they’d started Wednesday morning, they came back tired and dirty and put their stories and photos into the Appeal’s computer system along with the work done by the rest of the staff. Virtually everybody worked on the fire story all day, feeding information into the Web site, nevadaappeal.com, and preparing for the print edition.

I’m writing this before the afternoon winds come up. I don’t know whether the fire’s going to take off again like it did Wednesday afternoon, but there’s still plenty burning out there.

The scar along Carson City’s west side is going to be visible a long time. The C was standing out bright in Thursday’s sunshine, and the outline of the giant flag – thank goodness it didn’t get finished for July 4 – was the only patch of green on the side of the hill. Well, brownish-green, anyway.

The Kings Canyon waterfall for which the fire was named isn’t exactly a secret, but it felt like a minor discovery every time I’d visit there. The view and the little patch of solitude it provided made it special.

My envy for the people who lived within walking distance of the waterfall has turned to sympathy. Kings Canyon is one of Carson City’s treasures. It will be again someday.

Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at 881-1221 or editor@nevadaappeal.com.