The Bison fire continued to grow on Saturday, passing 7,000 acres as winds drove it north across the Pine Nut Mountains, consuming piñon pine and juniper, and producing clouds of white, gray and black smoke.
Despite high wind and rough terrain, as of Saturday afternoon, no structures had been reported destroyed in the fire burning five miles east of Gardnerville. It was set by lightning 3:30 p.m Thursday.
A portable base established at Minden-Tahoe Airport served five single-engine tankers working the fire, according to Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch spokesman Mark Struble.
Two large tankers were flying out of Stead, though heavy winds in the upper elevations prevented the use of aircraft in some places, according to Douglas County Sheriff’s spokesman, Sgt. Pat Brooks.
“These winds have fueled this fire, making for extreme behavior and very dangerous situations,” Brooks said.
Nearly 400 firefighters are working the blaze, the majority in nine hand crews and 18 engines.
Gusty winds pushed the fire northeast on Friday and Saturday, cresting the Pine Nuts in two spots south of Mt. Siegel and sending a plume of smoke into Smith and Mason valleys.
Struble said plans are in place for moving both air and ground firefighters to Smith Valley should the fire move further east.
Containment of the fire held at 20 percent, though it crested Mt. Siegel, the highest point in the Pine Nut Mountains between Carson and Smith valleys.
Voluntary evacuations of 20 homes on the west slope of the Pine Nuts were conducted Friday night. Smith Valley residents were told they would be able to see flames from the fire at the top of the mountain.
Fire officials are coordinating with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Washoe Tribe as significant cultural resources are threatened. They are also coordinating with the Nevada Department of Wildlife due to the severe threat the fire is posing to highly critical sage grouse habitat in Pine Nut Mountains. A fawn was rescued by a hand crew in the critical deer winter range on Friday.
According to the National Weather Service, today’s forecast calls for west winds 5-10 mph becoming southwest 10-15 mph in the afternoon, with gusts of up to 25 mph.
As of 3:33 p.m. Saturday, winds were blowing out of the southwest at 20 mph, gusting to 30 mph, according to the weather station at the Fish Springs Volunteer Fire Department.
Pinenut Road at Out-R-Way has been closed to nonresidents until further notice.
Information about the fire is being posted on Sierra Front Wild Fire Cooperators Facebook Page.
As of Saturday, the Bison fire is estimated to have cost $800,000 to fight, according to a federal situation report.