RENO, Nev. (AP) — A northern Nevada wildfire burning out of control near the California line more than tripled in size on Tuesday, closing a U.S. highway, forcing evacuations and threatening hundreds of homes as hundreds of firefighters battled the flames from the air and on the ground.
The fire that broke out Monday night in the Pinenut Mountains southeast of Gardnerville sent up a giant plume of smoke visible from more than 70 miles (112 kilometers) away in Reno. It had burned across an estimated 28 square miles (72 square kilometers) of mostly sage brush, juniper and pinon pines in Douglas County southeast of Lake Tahoe.
No injuries have been reported. At least one primary residence has been destroyed, along with 10 or 12 outbuildings, U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Lisa McNee said.
At least one large air tanker and several helicopters were dropping retardant and water on the flames, but the fire was burning out of control with no containment. Full containment isn’t expected until sometime next week. More than 400 firefighters were battling the blaze.
U.S. Highway 395 was closed in both directions for about a 16-mile (25-kilometer) stretch along the Sierra’s eastern front from the south end of Gardnerville to the junction with State Route 208 near the California-Nevada line.
NV Energy started cutting off power to some of the areas where more than 300 homes were threatened. The utility reported more than 500 residences were without power at one point Tuesday evening.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency quickly approved disaster relief funds Tuesday to help fight the fire, and evacuation centers were set up at local motels in Gardnerville and Minden.
Anthony Piazza was among those who decided to evacuate Tuesday to the Carson Valley Inn along U.S. Highway 395. He didn’t know when to expect when he returns home.
“Hopefully there will be a house there. Because when I was over there, there were flames everywhere,” he told KTVN-TV.
McNee said authorities were having trouble determining how many people at area motels had actually evacuated homes in the area.
“With U.S. 395 shutdown, a lot of people just stopped traveling,” she told The Associated Press. “We’re still trying to get a number of actual evacuees.”
Gusty winds that hampered the initial aerial attack Monday night eased up Tuesday but were forecast to return Wednesday afternoon.
FEMA said as many as 1,000 homes were threatened when it approved the federal disaster relief early Tuesday. Gov. Steve Sisolak requested the funding late Monday.
The blaze began as three separate fires that burned together Monday night, blanketing Carson Valley with heavy smoke.
One resident said the initial response by dozens of fire crews was amazing.
“The entire valley … lit up like Christmas last night,” Judy Jewkes told KOLO-TV.
An evacuation center for area livestock was opened at Douglas County Fairgrounds.
KOLO-TV reported that arson investigators were on scene, but the cause of the fire remained under investigation.