A cloud of grayish-white smoke settled over upscale homes and horse pastures at Reno's edge Friday as firefighters from across Nevada came close to taming a sudden wildfire that sent 16 people to hospitals and destroyed or damaged 25 houses.
The unexplained blaze also gave a firefighter first- and second-degree burns and was blamed for the death of a 74-year-old man who had a heart attack while trying to flee, but authorities said the worst was likely over as growing snow flurries and falling temperatures stoked hopes that the remaining showers of ember and ash would die down.
Reno Fire Chief Mike Hernandez said firefighters had largely contained the blaze that sent nearly 10,000 people from their homes in the middle of the night and sent flames licking the edges of the region's mountain roads.
"We are actually backtracking and going over areas that have burned and extinguishing hot spots," Hernandez said.
The cause of the blaze wasn't known, but a downed power line or homeless encampments in the area might be to blame, Hernandez said. He said the region is also a popular area for teenagers who might have started the fire to stay warm.
At least 400 firefighters from as far as 260 miles away flocked to Reno early Friday as multiple fires roared from the Sierra Nevada foothills in northwestern Nevada and spread to the valley floor. Flames reached 50 feet high and embers pushed by the wind traveled up to a mile.
Police went house-to-house, pounding on doors and urging residents to evacuate in the dark of the night.
Hernandez said residents ran from their homes dressed in pajamas, frantically trying to grab as many possessions as possible. One elderly man dressed in his underwear ran out with a blanket wrapped around his body.
"The people are in a state of shock and are hanging in there," Gov. Brian Sandoval said.
Dick Hecht said that when he escaped from his home with his wife, "the whole mountain was on fire," and it was so windy he could barely stand.
"It was so smoky, you couldn't hardly see," Hecht said.
The couple tried to return to their home before morning, but they were turned back by high winds and erupting flames. As they made their way back down the mountain roads, flames burned less than 40 yards from their vehicle.
Gusts of up to 60 mph grounded firefighting helicopters and made it difficult for firefighters to approach Caughlin Ranch, the affluent subdivision bordering pine-forested hills where the fire likely began after 12:30 a.m.
Full article @ http://goo.gl/4wqyC