VIRGINIA CITY - The view from Virginia City's C street was marred by a fire Saturday that ignited pinon trees like matchsticks, sending 30-foot columns of fire and giant plumes of white, gray and black smoke into the sky just east of town.
Tourists and locals gathered on the street to watch the blaze, started when four residents shooting a high-powered rifle ignited it with sparks from their gun in Six-Mile Canyon at about 3:30 p.m. Saturday, authorities said.
Dry sage, grass and pinon fueled the fire. Located at the intersection of Six-Mile and Seven-Mile canyons about three miles northeast of the town, the blaze pushed its way to the northeast, away from the small town. If not extinguished, Six Mile and Mark Twain subdivisions as well as the Flowery Mine and the Tyson Ranch could be at risk, according to authorities.
Extremely dry conditions and lots of flash fuel are the main factors increasing the risk to this area, which was the scene of a fire three years ago that started the same way, according to Storey County spokesperson John Tyson, who emphasized the dangers of a fire with these dry conditions. He was cautiously optimistic.
"The Pinon oil can flash so hot that it sends embers ahead of the blaze," he said. "But there is little wind, so things are looking pretty good."
The fire had burned about 60 acres by 7:30 p.m. Saturday and is expected to be contained by 8 a.m. Sunday morning, according to Mark Struble, information officer with the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center.
He said the air tankers "painted this one into a corner," making it much easier to contain.
Three air tankers and two helicopters as well as crews from the Storey County Fire Department, Nevada Division of Forestry, Lyon County and the U.S. Forest Service were on hand to help fight the fire.
"If we don't get a sudden wind change, there's a good chance we can cool this down with air tankers," Tyson said. "Then the hand crews can go in. They're the the most effective tool we've got."
Costs of fighting the blaze have not been determined.