Crews battle half-dozen Nevada wildfires; I-80 open
Posted July 12
RENO, Nev. — More than 1,500 firefighters continued to battle a half-dozen large wildfires in northern Nevada on Wednesday, including several fueled by extensive cheat grass growth from an unusually wet winter.
One blaze forced the evacuation of a gold mine north of Interstate 80 in the north-central part of the state north of Battle Mountain, and another was threatening sage grouse and wild horse habitat near U.S. Highway 50 about 100 miles (161 kilometers) east of Reno.
About 300 firefighters aided by an extensive aerial attack continued to get the upper hand on the most disruptive fire in western Nevada, which shut down Interstate 80 most of Tuesday along the California-Nevada line in the rugged mountain canyons west of Reno. All eastbound lanes and one westbound lane were open at midday Wednesday.
"Eight aircraft including helicopters and air tankers played a significant role in limiting the fire's spread by dropping thousands of gallons of water and retardant," the Forest Service said, estimating the fire that has burned about one square mile was 20 percent contained.
"Fire helicopters dipping water from the Truckee River, rolling rocks and fire debris has been and continue to be a danger to the public," the service warned. Seven structures remained in the potential fire line but none was immediately threatened.
All told, the series of fires sparked over the past week or so have burned nearly 300 square miles (777 sq. kilometers) of mostly rangeland, primarily north of Interstate 80 from east of Winnemucca to west of Elko.
"Fires continue to burn fiercely across Nevada in part because there is a 200 percent to 500 percent increase in the density of cheat grass due to last winter's rainfall," the U.S. Bureau of Land Management said Wednesday.
The biggest blaze, the Rooster Comb fire, has burned 180 square miles (466 sq. kilometers) of grass and brush 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Battle Mountain.
That fire, which was estimated to be 15 percent contained on Wednesday, forced the evacuation of the Hollister Mine the day before. No structures have burned. More than 450 firefighters remained on the scene and full containment wasn't expected until Monday.
Other big fires included the Draw fire along U.S. Highway 50 about 100 miles (161 kilometers) east of Reno, and the Tabor Flats fire a mile north of I-80 about 70 miles (112 kilometers) west of the Utah line. Each has burned about 40 square miles (103 sq. kilometers).
About 470 personnel were working the Draw fire, which was estimated to be 60 percent contained about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Fallon near Cold Springs. U.S. 50 remained open and no structures have been damaged, the BLM said.
Crews were concentrating efforts on protecting sage grouse habitat, wild horse grazing areas, a stretch of the Pony Express Trail, high voltage power transmission lines and a geothermal plant currently under construction, the BLM said.
"Firefighters have observed the wild horses moving ahead of the fire, out of harm's way," the agency said.
The Tabor Flats fire sparked by lightning on July 8 about 18 miles (29 kilometers) west of Wells was 95 percent contained with full containment expected by Thursday.