Federal firefighting crews are turning their focus today from Oregon to the Sierra Nevada where bulldozers are digging lines around a housing subdivision threatened by a huge wild fire burning in the region´s driest conditions in 30 years. U.S. Highway 395 remains closed from Bridgeport, California, north to the Nevada-California state line, where the Topaz Lodge hotel-casino and hundreds of area residents voluntarily evacuated yesterday. More than 600 firefighters, three air tankers and two Chinook helicopters from the National Air Guard are battling the blaze today. Crew chiefs estimate the fire still to be just 10% contained with more than 250 homes at risk.
A Type One fire management team from Oregon, the highest priority federal firefighting team, is scheduled to take over control of the Gate fire complex in the Sierra late today or early Wednesday. Fire officials say the timing will depend on the extent to which winds strengthen and fan the flames through the dry juniper, sage brush and pinon pines in the rugged mountain area about 90 miles southeast of Reno. Sustained winds of 25 miles per hour hampered firefighting efforts yesterday. Fire spokeswoman Laura Williams says the wind is the biggest concern. That combined with very low humidity and soil moisture levels she says are the lowest for this time of year since Nixon was president. Fire officials estimated at midday yesterday that the Gate fire complex had burned more than 10,000 acres in the area south of Topaz Lake to Coleville and Walker. A flyover late yesterday caused a downward revision to 7,200 acres. But fire officials say another 1,400 acres burned over night to reach about 8,600 acres by this morning. BLM fire spokesman Mark Struble says Gate complex has been given a top priority of scores of wildland blazes in the country because of the number of homes nearby.
Crews on bulldozers dug about a two-mile trench around 50 homes in the Holbrook Highlands subdivision along U.S. 395 just north of Topaz Lake. Williams says they have layed retardant around the mound of dirt to bolster the line. The area around the Topaz Lodge also remains a concern. Williams says the fire line is within a half-mile of there. Fire spokeswoman Sharon Soule says local residents have been showering firefighters with praise. She says the structure protection in the area has been phenomenal. The fire burned through power lines south of Lake Topaz, leaving residents without power or phones, including the firefighters´ command post at the local high school. Sierra Pacific Power company officials say it could be weeks before power is restored to all the Coleville area but they are creating a temporary substation with a mobile generator that burns 70 gallons of fuel an hour.