Fire marshal: 'We were so fortunate'

Fire officials said Thursday they are looking for several individuals who may have been in the vicinity of the old power dam when a 70-acre fire broke out earlier this week.

"There were a surprising number of people in the area when the fire broke out," said East Fork fire investigator Terry Taylor. "It was afternoon and people were out recreating by the river.

"Hopefully, people will call in and say, 'This is what I saw,' or, 'I didn't see anything,'" Taylor said.

Although the fire which broke out at 3:45 p.m. Tuesday was human-caused, he said there is no evidence it was arson.

"We'd like to hear from the person who started the fire. Nothing at this juncture indicates the fire was arson. It may be accidental. If they didn't start the fire willfully and maliciously, it's not third-degree arson," Taylor said.

He said investigators were looking for three white males in a white pickup truck, two young blond white males in a green Jeep Cherokee and two young white males on a quad runner.

"Just because they were in the area where the fire started doesn't mean they started the fire," Taylor said. "They may have information for us."

East Fork Fire Marshal Steve Eisele credited teamwork and good fortune with restricting the fire to the west side of Highway 395 south of Gardnerville and away from homes in Ruhenstroth.

"We were so fortunate to catch it at the highway," Eisele said Wednesday. "If we'd been unable to contain it and it jumped the highway with the strong winds continuing to burn in an easterly direction, it would have been right behind the houses at the south end of Ruhenstroth."

Eisele said crews brought in a bulldozer in preparation for cutting a fire line to protect the houses, but it wasn't necessary.

"We worked the plan for the fire and through a lot of great firefighting effort and working close together, we were able to contain it at the highway and not lose any structures," he said.

The fire broke out just above the old power dam on U.S. Forest Service land.

Taylor said the blaze appeared to have originated in a fire pit.

"Basically, a fire pit is a hole in the ground where you light the fire and throw trash on it," Taylor said.

Eisele said at the height of the fire, some 150 emergency responders were on scene including career firefighters from East Fork Fire District, the forest service, Bureau of Land Management, and Nevada Division of Forestry.

Volunteers responded from Ruhenstroth, Gardnerville Ranchos, Fish Springs, Gardnerville, Sheridan, and Topaz Lake.

"We had a very, very good response," Eisele said. "We were able to put a lot of equipment on it."

That was critical in keeping the fire, fanned by 15-mph winds, on the west side of Highway 395.

"The wind pushed the fire across the hill toward the river on the north end and in a very short order burned to the highway where we had to set up several engines to try to contain the fire. There were about six aircraft used " four planes and two helicopters.

"They made several retardant drops around the perimeter. We had one little spot fire on the east side of Highway 395 but we were able to pick it up very quickly."

Officials closed Highway 395 between Riverview Drive and China Spring Road for more than three hours because of low visibility due to smoke and to allow equipment on the scene.

"Everybody just needs to be real careful doing any work outside with any power equipment or construction equipment or being off-road," Eisele said.

"Right now, due to low humidity and still experiencing dry weather, the fire conditions are some of the worst we've seen in may years. The grasses have been dry for many months and the heavier live fuels are drying out. The moisture content is very low. Everything is burning, it's just kind of explosive," he said.


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