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Weather aids firefighters
Jeff DeLong

August 27, 2004
Cooler temps help to calm fire's behavior


By Jeff DeLong


A day after wind-whipped flames destroyed six homes and forced the evacuation of hundreds of others, a change in the weather helped firefighters gain the upper hand fighting a dangerous wildfire south of Reno.

Officials reported the Andrew Fire to be 85 percent contained Thursday after burning 2,693 acres. Full containment is expected by Saturday.

Slackening winds, rising humidity and cooling temperatures combined to calm fire behavior overnight, allowing firefighters to dig fire lines and pounce on hot spots, officials said.

"We're fortunate we got that cool weather coming in that helped us overnight," said Larry Farr, battalion chief for the Reno Fire Department. "It hasn't been active at all today."

On Wednesday, gusts of up to 40 mph blasted flames through parts of Pleasant Valley, through the Toll Road area and up Geiger Grade. Two homes were destroyed off Pleasant Valley's Andrew Lane area and another four near Toll Road, including a prominent hilltop estate west of the Geiger Grade lookout. At least seven barns, sheds or similar freestanding buildings also were lost, as were 22 vehicles, Farr said.

The fire was started by a Canadian visitor who was target shooting on a dirt road in the hills north of Washoe Lake, officials said. Fire officials are reviewing the case with the district attorney's office, but Otis Armand was shooting in a legal area when a ricocheting bullet sparked the blaze, which quickly threatened about 350 structures. Armand could face lawsuits from those who lost property or be liable for fire suppression costs, officials said.

At the fire's height, 14 air tankers swooped over the blaze, dropping more than 72,000 gallons of fire retardant on the fire during Wednesday alone. Six of the tankers were large airplanes recently allowed back into service after being grounded because of safety concerns early this summer and were available in part because of a lack of other dangerous fires in the West on Wednesday.

"I think that's why we were so lucky to have all those resources," said Franklin Pemberton, a fire information officer from the U.S. Forest Service. "It made a big difference."

"They had quite an air show," agreed Mark Struble of the Bureau of Land Management.

On Thursday, 555 firefighters remained on scene to battle a sedated Andrew Fire. Ten helicopters, 57 fire engines and six bulldozers were engaged in the effort.

Firefighters were poised Thursday for a possible return of high winds that could kick the fire back into action. Of particular concern was the possibility the fire would enter Bailey Canyon, where topography "would funnel the fire right up to the Virginia Highlands in a big hurry," Struble said.

Wind conditions remained mostly calm throughout the day.

With an arc of blackened landscape around his Andrew Lane-area home, Bob Sader and his wife, Candy, counted their blessings Thursday. One neighbor's home immediately to the south was destroyed Wednesday, as was another to the west. To the east, a third home was damaged. The Saders' barn and stables were destroyed, but their house escaped any damage.

"We feel terrifically lucky," Bob Sader said. "We have a little island here where our house didn't go."

Sader said he felt bad for his neighbors who lost their homes and thankful for the firefighters who saved his.

"They did the wonderful job that they always do," he said.

o o o


Fighting the fire: Since the Andrew Fire began Wednesday, about 555 firefighters were battling the blaze. In action were 57 engines, six bulldozers, seven water tenders, and 11 hand crews (each totaling about 20 members per crew) from the U.S. Forest Service, the federal Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Nevada Division of Forestry. Air resources included 14 fixed-wing aircraft, six helicopters and three air-attack and lead planes.


Photos by Marilyn Newton/Reno Gazette-Journal

AT WORK: Jeff Noller, left, and Jordan Nason, contract firefighters from Reno, try to extinguish a fire Thursday morning at a ranch in the Rhodes Road area. The fire narrowly missed the structures at the ranch.

SPARED: A house and motor home that escaped the raging Andrew Fire on Wednesday sit on the charred landscape Thursday.

GRATEFUL: This sign in front of an Andrew Lane home says it all Thursday.

IN RUINS: A fence lies melted along Rhodes Road Thursday. The fence was destroyed Wednesday by the raging wildfire that swept through the Andrew Lane area.

Ted Bierman/Special to the Reno Gazette-Journal (computer graphic showing the fire zone, not archived)

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

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