A Nevada Highway Patrol trooper drives past a fast-moving brush fire in… (Cathleen Allison / Associated…)
A large brush fire raging in a rural valley between Carson City and Reno has consumed more than 3,000 acres, destroyed at least three homes and is nowhere near containment, Nevada officials announced Thursday afternoon.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval declared a state of emergency shortly before 5 p.m., following similar moves by Washoe County and Reno city officials.
????Stoked by 80-mph winds, the fast-moving fire triggered the evacuation of more than 4,000 residents and cut short a scheduled speech by Vice President Joe Biden at a Reno high school.
"To say we're in the thick of battle is an understatement," said Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez at a media briefing. The news conference itself was almost postponed because authorities were set to widen the evacuation area to include the high school where the briefing took place.
The fire, reported about noon Thursday, was traveling north toward Reno's southern neighborhoods. It essentially split into two fires, fire authorities said, straddling both sides of Highway 395. That road connects Carson City, the capital, to Reno.
Residents of the area are still recovering from a November wildfire, started by arcing power lines, that destroyed about 30 homes in south Reno.
The Reno Gazette-Journal has reported that at least three homes have burned, but fire officials said they would not be able to calculate how many structures had burned until tomorrow.
"We are battling Mother Nature," Armando Avina, a Washoe County sheriff's deputy, told the Gazette-Journal. "There is no sign of moisture. If the winds don't cooperate and firefighters have to battle this fire in this wind, the damages could be very substantial."
Smoke choked the air Thursday afternoon in the Pleasant Valley neighborhood as deputies went door to door, pleading with residents to leave their homes. Authorities had already emptied out a nearby elementary school, as flames up to 40 feet tall approached.
The windy weather had hampered Biden's visit earlier in the day as well. He was traveling to the area in advance of the state's Democratic presidential caucuses this weekend, the Gazette-Journal said. His speech, which was scheduled for 11:30 a.m., was pushed back when fierce gusts forced Air Force Two to land in Fallon, Nev., about 60 miles east of Reno.
By about 1:45 p.m., when Biden began speaking, the smell of smoke was wafting through Galena High School, the newspaper said. The vice president was soon told to wrap up his remarks because fire officials needed to use the school gym as a command center.
Local officials have already deployed more than 200 firefighters and expect about 100 more from other agencies to arrive in the next six hours, Reno Fire Chief Hernandez said.