Helicopter Ferries Crews to Remote Scene of Reno-Area Wildfire
May 19, 2014
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  • The region’s wildfire season is underway with the first significant Reno-area blaze of 2014 burning west of the community in terrain so rough that a helicopter was needed to get crews to the scene.

    The Hunter Falls Fire west of Reno was reported to the U.S. Forest Service about 11:30 p.m. Saturday, said Brian Reublinger, spokesman for Sierra Front fire responders and the Forest Service.

    Jon Stonelake, U.S. Forest Service spokesman, said that a camp fire was reported in the area late Saturday night, but it’s unknown whether that contributed to the wildfire that remains under investigation.

    Reublinger said that crews reached the wildfire by sunrise Sunday.

    Because of the terrain and remoteness of the area, fire engines could not immediately reach the scene, Reublinger said.

    Instead, crews were flown by helicopter to the fire site because the area was inaccessible with the trucks, Reublinger said.

    “We have one helicopter flying crews in, with about 20 people to each crew,” he said.

    Stonelake of the Forest Service said: “They’re not just going to hike people in the rural area five or six mile in the middle of night… It was way back in the wilderness.”

    Winds fan flames

    The fire had burned at least 150 acres by Sunday night, Reublinger said. Strong winds fanned the flames in the Mount Rose Wilderness area.

    No injuries were reported or homes damaged.

    “The origin is still being investigated, but we do know that there wasn’t any lightning in the last 24 hours,” Reublinger said.

    Although winds remained a concern, nearby homes weren’t in any immediate danger, Reublinger said.

    “We want to make sure the general public stays out of the area and off the trails,” he said. “Our main concern is the safety of our firefighters and of the public.”

    A staging area for fire crews was set up near Cabela’s in the Boomtown area.

    “It started in the wilderness, and it’s still in the wilderness,” Sierra Front Battalion Chief Brad Sawyer said Sunday. “We have some old burn scars in that area that could help contain it.”

    Nearly 150 firefighters were battling the fire assisted by two helicopters and the Black Mountain, Silver State and Truckee hot shot crews. Slide Mountain hand crews were also at the site, along with the Reno Fire Department and other agencies.

    Besides ferrying firefighters to the scene, one helicopter attacked the blaze from the air.

    “We have a large bucket on the bottom of the helicopter, and we dip it to a water source and fly that water to the fire site,” Reublinger said.

    Fire raises concern

    Justin Cutler and his wife Nicole were drinking coffee Sunday morning when they saw the smoke from the fire.

    “We were watching the puff of smoke and wondering when they would call me in,” said Cutler, assistant superintendent for Sierra Front, who was called to the scene.

    “The (2007) Hawken Fire burned some of the area, and I’m hoping some of that hillside burned, and maybe we can use that area as an opportunity for success,” Cutler said.

    Regardless of past fire scars, the drought had firefighters worried that it would fuel the flames and spread the fire.

    “We’re in a severe drought, and we’re basically a year behind schedule for moisture content, so the fuels are already drier than normal,” Stonelake said. “We’re in conditions now that we would normally see in July. It’s a concern.”

    Another problem was the high winds hitting the fire site, Stonelake said.

    “The potential is there for a really big fire front and push,” he said. “Both those conditions combine to really make it a really active fire day.”

    “The drought conditions that we have could meant a big fire for the late afternoon,” Stonelake said early afternoon on Sunday.