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Wildfire rages in south Reno
August 26, 2004
Caused by shooter: 2,600 acres charred; many area residents urged to find shelter.




By Jeff DeLong


A man target shooting in the hills near Washoe Lake sparked a dangerous wind-swept wildfire Wednesday, charring 2,600 acres and burning at least four homes, authorities said.

The wildfire, which started about 1 p.m., threatened about 350 structures and forced evacuation of hundreds of residents in the Pleasant Valley and Toll Road areas, officials said. U.S. 395 between Reno and Carson City and Geiger Grade between Reno and Virginia City were closed by authorities, but U.S. 395 reopened shortly before 6 p.m.

Some residents were being allowed back in their homes to retrieve belongings and then were advised to find shelter for the night elsewhere in case the fire intensified, according to reports received by the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center. Geiger Grade remained closed Wednesday night. As of that time, fire containment was at 10 percent.

Eight additional homes and four other outbuildings were damaged and about 200 outbuildings were threatened, officials said.

The fire, pushed by westerly winds gusting up to 40 mph, rocketed through brushy terrain toward neighborhoods in its path, fire officials and witnesses said.

"Man, it just exploded. It literally exploded," said John Brodie, a resident of the Toll Road area.

Brodie watched two homes across the street from his Ramona Road residence burn quickly to the ground.

About brought me to tears' "It was moving as fast as the wind," Brodie said. "It about brought me to tears."

The fire was started by Otis Armand, a visitor to the area, who was practicing with his gun along a dirt road off Washoe Valley's East Lake Boulevard, said Capt. Bill Burney of the Reno Fire Department.

"He tried to put it out with dirt, and it just spread up the canyon," Burney said. "Let me tell you, it burned a lot of homes in a short amount of time."

Armand is cooperating with authorities but could potentially be held liable for fire suppression costs and property damage, said Larry Farr, a battalion chief with the Reno Fire Department. It was legal for Armand to be target shooting where he was, Farr said.

"He's very concerned, very upset," Farr said.

An unidentified female driver was injured when she rammed her Volkswagen Jetta into a Nevada Division of Forestry truck in a spot on Andrews Lane where smoke had reduced visibility to zero, Farr said. The woman was taken to the hospital with injuries that were not believed to be life-threatening. No other injuries were reported.

Fourteen air tankers and seven helicopters tried to slow the fire with water and chemical fire retardant. Dozens of fire engines and hundreds of firefighters converged on the scene. The Type 1 oversight team sent in to manage the Andrew Fire signals the blaze is among the highest priorities in the country.

By late in the afternoon, the fire was burning east of the Toll Road area and into steep, pinyon pine-covered terrain of the Virginia Range. At one point Wednesday, firefighters reported a fire front some eight miles long.

"That thing flashed up very fast, and it's still moving very rapidly," said Franklin Pemberton, fire information officer. Wednesday night, the fire presented no immediate threat to the Virginia Highlands, but officials were watching the blaze's movements closely.

Michele Hagan watched a lightning-sparked wildfire burn uncomfortably close to her Andrew Lane-area home during the summer of 2001.

"This time it's a lot closer," Hagan said as flames chewed through brush just yards from her residence. "Last time they said we had a pretty good break. I guess we'll see."

Moments later, a sheriff's cruiser sped up, and Hagan and others were ordered to leave.

"All people have to go. It's a mandatory evacuation," Deputy Francisco Gamboa shouted as smoke whirled in the air.

Rhodes Road resident Marti Tote got the same orders as she and her family anxiously watched nearby flames.

"We don't want to do anything stupid. They asked us to leave," Tote said. "If it comes over that hill, we'll do what's safe."

Tote was waiting for a trailer to take some of her horses away.

"We just have our clothes, our essentials," Tote said. "We grabbed some pictures and we'll just pray to God our firefighters do what they do best."

Not archived: graphic/map by J. Kurowski/RGJ.

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Photo gallery: Log on to RGJ.com for more photographs from Wednesday's Andrew Fire in south Reno.


David B. Parker/Reno Gazette-Journal

ABLAZE: A fully engulfed van burns next to a home that was destroyed by the Andrew Fire on Wednesday. Authorities said at least four homes were burned in the fire.

Tim Dunn/Reno Gazette-Journal

HOPING FOR DIVINE INTERVENTION: Lynette Anninos prays for her Toll Road home during Wednesday's Andrew Fire south of Reno. She said it was the first home she's ever owned and it had taken all of her efforts to buy it. It appeared that the fire burned around the house.

Tim Dunn/Reno Gazette-Journal

FIREFIGHTING: Their heads bowed in a fruitless attempt to avoid the smoke, a firefighting team Wednesday afternoon prepares to battle the blaze off Andrew Lane.

David B. Parker/Reno Gazette-Journal

PET CARE: Chris Schwartz, 15, loads family pets into a vehicle Wednesday as he prepares to evacuate his Andrew Lane home.

Copyright (c) Reno Gazette-Journal. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.

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