Nevada brush fire burns homes, forces thousands to flee
A wind-driven fire raged through brush near Reno, Nev., engulfing homes and prompting residents and livestock to flee by the thousands.
Thu, Jan 19, 2012 at 06:59 PM
FIRE: The evacuation orders affected an estimated 4,000 people and were expected to be expanded as the blaze bore down on the southern edge of Reno, propelled by high winds through tinder-dry brush. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
RENO, Nev. - A wind-driven fire raged through parched brush near Reno, Nev., on Thursday, engulfing a number of homes, and prompting residents and livestock to flee by the thousands as belching smoke from the blaze forced the closure of a major highway.
The fire also cut short a visit to Reno by Vice President Joe Biden, officials said.
The blaze erupted at about 1 p.m. in the Pleasant Valley area south of Reno and by 5 p.m. had scorched more than 3,000 acres, prompting the evacuation of seven residential neighborhoods and two schools as it burned north toward the city, authorities told reporters at a news conference.
The evacuation orders affected an estimated 4,000 people and were expected to be expanded as the blaze bore down on the southern edge of Reno, propelled by high winds through tinder-dry brush.
No injuries were reported, fire officials said, but the swiftly-moving flames claimed an unknown number of buildings south of Reno.
"We know we have lost some structures (but) we don't have a count at this time," Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez said.
Local television news footage from the blaze showed at least three homes engulfed in flames.
In their haste to move farm animals out of harm's way, authorities opened gates of livestock pens to release horses and cattle onto nearby roads so they could roam away from advancing flames on their own.
Trooper Mike Edgell told Reuters earlier that an 8-mile portion of U.S. Highway 395, the main north-south route connecting Reno to Nevada's capital, Carson City, was closed in both directions due to reduced visibility from smoke.
Pleasant Valley Elementary School was evacuated in the afternoon, and Galena High School on the southern outskirts of Reno was abandoned a short time after public safety officials held a 5 p.m. news conference there as the blaze drew near.
"Firefighters are in the heat of battle right now, and they will probably continue fighting throughout the night," Hernandez said.
Washoe County Manager Nevada Katy Simon declared a state of emergency allowing local authorities to seek reimbursement of firefighting costs and additional resources to battle the blaze. Governor Brian Sandoval also declared an emergency.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden had visited Reno on Thursday, stopping at Galena High School to speak to students and their families about college affordability, but cut his remarks short due to the approaching fire.
A White House official said Biden abbreviated his visit "to ensure students could leave the school safely."
Federal government personnel accompanying the vice president provided local authorities with assistance in nearby evacuation efforts, a Reno police spokesman said.
(Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman; editing by Cynthia Johnston and Dan Burns)
Copyright 2012 Reuters US Online Report Domestic News