TRUCKEE - Smoke from a fast-moving fire at Emigrant Gap closed Interstate 80 Monday afternoon, and more than 600 acres has burned at the latest estimate.
The interstate reopened just before midnight but not before strangling traffic for hours at the major trans-Sierra route.
Strong afternoon winds sent over 500 firefighters and a dozen aircraft scrambling to control the fire near Emigrant Gap, which was initially expected to be contained by Tuesday evening.
Several sparsely populated areas were evacuated along the Placer-Nevada County line at the Yuba Gap, including Carpenter Flat, Lake Spaulding and the Boy Scouts Camp Marin Sierra.
The fire was reported to be about 20 miles west of Truckee, with no immediate danger to Truckee or Donner Summit homes.
Interstate 80 was closed in both directions Monday about 1 p.m., while Highway 20 was closed from Highway 49 in Nevada City to its junction with I-80.
Traffic was snarled all over Truckee as Interstate travelers jammed other major roads in town. Old Highway 40 over Donner Summit was also reported closed to prevent travelers from taking a back route onto I-80.
No estimate on reopening the major artery between Reno and Sacramento was available.
"Initially it was 300 acres, but the winds have shifted and CDF said the fire just exploded," said California Highway Patrol Officer Rick Barnett from the Traffic Management Center in Sacramento.
"Right now, it's 600 acres and growing," added U.S. Forest Service fire information officer Carol Kennedy.
Kennedy said "all bets were off" as far as expected containment of the blaze. USFS is acting as the lead agency.
Kennedy said more than 500 firefighters were on the scene, along with six air tankers and three helicopters. Kennedy said at least three additional helicopters were being called in to help fight the fire.
Eastbound Interstate 80 was closed to through traffic at Applegate. Local traffic could get as far east as the Drum Forebay exit.
Westbound I-80 was closed at the Agricultural Inspection Station in Truckee. Commercial trucks were being held at the state line.
A U.S. Forest Service spokesman said the fire started around 1 p.m. on Sunday in the Onion Valley area, about two miles south of the Interstate 80 and Highway 20 junction. It was first reported by a lookout.
Hayden said the cause of the fire was still under investigation.
The Fish fire, which has burned since Thursday, is slowing down, according to fire officials and is 70 percent contained. Officials and expect to have a line completely around it by Wednesday evening.
The Fish fire cost $1.14 million to fight and destroyed five outbuildings.
A 15,000-acre fire is burning 15 miles southwest of Winnemucca in the Sonoma Mountains.
Accroding to the Bureau of Land Management, there are 40 active fires ranging in size from one acre to 15,000. An estimated 35,000 acres are on fire in Nevada alone.