Fast-moving Reno wildfire kills 1, prompts evacuations

Story highlights

  • One firefighter suffers severe burns, the Reno fire chief says
  • Winds are expected to die down overnight, helping firefighters
  • Reno's police chief says the hope is for evacuees to return home Saturday
  • At least 25 structures have been damaged, but over 4,000 have been saved
A fast-moving wildfire swept through Reno on Friday, killing at least one person and damaging up to 25 homes, officials said.
The city of Reno, the rest of Washoe County and Nevada all declared states of emergency Friday morning due to what's being called the Caughlin Ranch Fire, the governments announced on their websites.
The county reported at 8:45 a.m. that a person had died as a result, without offering details. Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez then said, in a late afternoon press conference, that one firefighter had been taken to a hospital with first- and second-degree burns.
The blaze had ballooned to 2,000 acres within about 12 hours, causing major destruction to some structures and minimal damage to others, according to the fire chief. He estimated that firefighters had, by early afternoon, saved 4,000 to 4,500 homes.
"We are throwing everything we have against this terrible fire," Gov. Brian Sandoval said, applauding local, state and federal authorities as well as charities that are participating in the effort.
The fire was reported shortly after midnight Thursday, spreading within an hour and becoming three-alarm blaze, Hernandez said.
"People are in a state of shock," Sandoval said, recounting stories he'd heard from evacuees. They "woke up last night in the middle of the night with their house full of smoke, to suddenly step out in their deck (and) see flames several feet high."
The National Weather Service forecast sustained southwest winds of 35 mph throughout the day, with gusts as strong as 55 mph. These winds knocked down several trees and power lines, as well as made it difficult to contain the blaze.
"The wind was probably the most challenging component of the response," Hernandez said. "It played a major role in how quickly and aggressively the fire did spread."
More than 4,100 Nevada Energy customers are without power, in addition to more than 150 of its gas customers, the utility said on its official Twitter account.
Reno-Tahoe International Airport remained open, though some flights have been canceled or delayed due to high wind gusts, the airport reported on Twitter.
The fire chief reported a positive, if possibly temporary, milestone by early afternoon.
"We have stopped the progress of the fire," Hernandez said. "This does not mean that the fire is under control, but we have stopped the forward movement in the central part" of Reno.
Another good development was forecasts that winds would die down overnight. Temperatures then were forecast to drop into the low 20s overnight in Reno, with scattered snow showers possible, the National Weather Service said.
By the weekend, winds were expected to calm considerably, blowing from the west at 5 mph, with high temperatures in the 30s and 40s.
Hernandez said that such conditions should "greatly improve our ability to mitigate the fire."
All residents in the fire zone and vicinity were urged to stay indoors due to deteriorating air quality, the Reno government noted.
Galena High School in Reno has been set up as an evacuation center, and if that fills up, Damonte Ranch High School will serve the same purpose. The city of Reno estimated Friday that at least 9,500 people have been asked to leave their homes.
Animals in danger can be transported to the Livestock Events Center in Reno to ensure their safety, the county said.
Reno Police Chief Steven Pitts said that 150 law enforcement personnel were on the ground, as well as 160 National Guard members, to protect evacuated homes, help those in need, respond to related emergencies and plan for the evacuees' return.
He said authorities are working to check on evacuated areas, hoping to ensure their safe so that residents can return Saturday.
"We are initially shooting for tomorrow at noon to have that area stabilized, so people can move back in," Pitts said.