GUSTY wind fans huge fires across hard-hit, desert-dry northern Nevada

Monday, August 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

RENO, Nev. (AP) _ Extremely dry weather, lightning-packed thunderstorms and gusty wind drove a series of large fires across northern Nevada, the hardest hit state in the West.

The largest blaze, in rugged high desert 25 miles north of Battle Mountain, nearly doubled in size Sunday as wind shifted directions, and had burned across 82,000 acres as of early Monday.

``It kicked our butt yesterday,'' fire spokesman Nick Zufelt said early Monday. ``But crews last night made great progress.

``The fire is looking very well,'' he said. ``If the wind keeps down to around 10-15 mph, which we can manage, we should get a handle on it.''

A stretch of the Union Pacific railroad was closed because of the fire for a few hours Sunday and large plumes of smoke and flames were visible from Interstate 80 near Battle Mountain.

Nevada's seven largest fires had burned more than 100,000 acres since Wednesday.

``When you get the very low humidity down to 7 or 8 percent, even the green, live vegetation burns,'' said Mark Struble, a fire information officer for the Bureau of Land Management.

Many parts of the state are in the middle of their driest year in a century _ in Reno, the driest on record since 1872.

The biggest danger to homes was along the California-Nevada state line, where air tankers and bulldozers helped protect about 25 homes from a 19,300-acre fire on Sunday in the Sierra Nevada 10 miles east of Doyle, Calif., some 40 miles northwest of Reno.

None of the homes was in danger early Monday, interagency fire spokesman Kirk Frosdick said. However, the fire had destroyed five outbuildings.

In California, a wildfire in the Mendocino National Forest had burned 11,700 acres since it started Wednesday. It was described as 51 percent contained by late Sunday, but it had already destroyed 11 homes, mostly summer cabins, plus seven outbuildings.

Elsewhere in the West, dry lightning started at least 40 fires Sunday in Oregon wilderness areas, and wind gusting to 40 mph fanned the flames.

Oregon officials were most concerned about a 3,000-acre grass and brush fire about 10 miles southwest of Medford that threatened hillside homes and other structures.

Crews in Washington state were sent out Sunday to battle some two dozen lightning-sparked fires in the Wenatchee National Forest. No buildings were threatened, spokeswoman Robin DeMario said.