Nevada fire evacuees start returning home

Scott Sonner and John Antczak
·2-min read

A day after a wind-whipped wildfire in northern Nevada roared through a neighbourhood in Reno and destroyed at least five houses, more than 1000 people forced to evacuate have started returning home.

Another fire about 160 km south and across the border in California also exploded in strong winds on Tuesday, killing one person, driving hundreds from homes and destroying 80 structures in and around a small community, including some houses.

Rains overnight helped tamp down the flames in both places but crews in Reno feared a forecast that called for another lashing of strong winds that could revive the fire, which damaged 15 other structures on the edge of the Sierra Nevada foothills.

"We're looking at 64 kpm/h winds in the valleys again today, 112 km/h over the ridgetops, so that will be a concern for us," Fire Department incident commander Mark Winkelman said.

Two firefighters were injured while battling the blaze over 5 sq km but have been treated and released.

One suffered an allergic reaction, the other injured a leg while helping evacuate 1300 residents.

Extremely dry conditions helped fuel the blaze in rugged, hard-to-reach canyons that run between homes in the densely populated neighbourhood, Reno Fire Chief David Cochran said.

"Even though there was literally snow on the ground in some areas, a wind-driven fire like that is almost impossible to stop."

Nevada is experiencing drought, with much of it in extreme drought, and it's moved in and out of such dry conditions for years.

Numerous studies have linked bigger wildfires in America to climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas, which has made parts of the US west much drier and more flammable.

Investigators from the state and Reno fire marshal's office as well as the utility NV Energy were trying to find the cause of the fire.

Winkelman said it started about 183 m from the origin point of a November 2011 fire that destroyed 27 homes.

That blaze was ignited by arcing power lines at a substation in strong winds.

On Tuesday, the wind made it impossible to send up aircraft to help fight the flames, with support from local and federal agencies in northern Nevada and neighbouring California critical before wet weather moved in.