Winds, burn pile didn't mix in Centerville

On Oct. 10 at 1 a.m. a two-day old burn pile on our property reignited under strong winds. The fire burned north through our property and reached three of our neighbors. My wife Linda and our neighbor Lois Kessler dialed 911 within 15 minutes of each other and the response from the East Fork Fire and Paramedic Districts, Douglas County Search and Rescue, Douglas County Sheriff's Office, the Nevada Highway Patrol, the Gardnerville, Sheridan, and Fish Springs and Ruhenstroth volunteer fire departments, Dave Drew, Julian Larrouy, Henry Dreyer and all others involved in the fire suppression effort was immediate. We were all impressed, even awed by their professionalism, organization, and dedication in what they do. My sense of personal pride is in the gutter for dragging all these fine people out of their beds during the worst wind storm, to come to our neighborhood and save all our homes and structures. By the light of day, we were amazed and relieved to see our neighbor's homes standing and the damage limited to burned fences and some scorched vegetation. Significant damage though was sustained by the firefighter's vehicles due to the wind, terrain, smoke, and barbed wire fencing. We're still trying to put out the smoldering meadows which continue to smolder due to the high organic content of the soil. Special thanks to Dave Drew who showed up routinely after the fire and assisted in putting out the smoldering meadow and giving much advice about how to make our area safer in the future. The Kleiners, Kesslers, Rices and Amackers, thank you all for what you did.


I first woke at 1:20 a.m. and saw a glow though the louvers of my bedroom window. I'm used to flickering light because the cars on Kimmerling Road shine on this window all the time. But this glow was different, constant. I opened the louvers and saw a 10-foot wall of flames blowing north beyond our deck. I ran to our water truck and put a hose in the tank and waited impatiently for the 150-gallon tank to fill. We have planned on a 3-inch water faucet on our new well for emergencies but it is not installed yet. Linda called 911, woke the boys, put a few valuables in our car, and went to the back deck with Eric and started two hoses. Evan jumped on the back of our water truck and fired up the pump while I drove to the west side of the fire just north of our house. By then, several fire trucks were in the driveway but many more were out on Highway 88 awaiting direction. No doubt the strong winds blowing north would dictate that the real threat was to the north.

We drove our water truck down the west line of the fire until we got to a fence and went no further. I've already decided to remove that fence. We had already removed many historic fences on our property that were present due to the cattle that used to graze here. Now, it is quite evident that these fences serve no purpose but to be a hazard during such emergencies.

We filled the water tank once again and went to the three beehives north of our house. The fire had already burned under one of them and we soaked them down. We still do not know if the bees survived. I watched from this high point as the wind carried burning embers that touched down and started several more fires simultaneously way to the north. The fire had a life of its own dictated by the winds. At times, the wind gusts were so strong they blew heavy wooden deck chairs over on our deck.

From that point on we felt all but helpless as the fire headed towards our neighbors. The irony was beginning to sink in; I had spent seven years trying to preserve a piece our our valley's open space and I had just burned it down.

A fire truck had nosed in to one of our ditches as the smoke was so thick that they could not see the depth. We tried pulling them out with our tractor and only gained inches. Later, a backhoe came and lifted them out of the ditch. We felt some urgency as there was active fire around this truck. At the same time, I noticed all the burning juniper fence posts. The fire trucks would spray tremendous amounts of water on them but the wind would just re-ignite them, sending more sparks flying. Many were creosote impregnated. Sorry, no more wood fence posts. Steel posts are coming.

I feel like we were just a little wild card racing around in our Chevy water truck as a coordinated effort of firefighters formed a wall around the fire.

When the morning came, we could see that the fire had missed the Mountain View Tree nursery with only a few scorched trees on the east end. The fire had raced into the Kesler's front yard and missed their propane tank by only a few feet and jumped into the Amacker's west fields. The Keslers keep their property mowed very low and this minimal vegetation, no doubt, saved their house. At one point, the fire burned under their boat trailer but did no damage aside from melting the plastic license plate cover. I hate to think that the only way we can keep our properties safe is to keep them mowed flat.

We all have been contemplating how to manage the future. I thought I had been prudent by dumping several hundred gallons of water on our burn pile but I was wrong. My neighbor was so scared by his last troublesome burn that he now hauls his refuse to the dump. Our burn pile was part of our solution for keeping our property safe. We're always cleaning up debris and have been burning ditches and refuse for eight years now. We are installing large gates with all the metal fencing and removing some fencing to make the property safer, but the reality remains, we are all small pieces of what was once a larger ranching operation and we are not grazing animals and there are fences popping up everywhere. The flammable build up is a direct result and lightning can set it all off just as easy as my negligence.

Likewise, this year has been very dry and we lost our ditch water on June 1 instead of July 15 and the meadows were dryer than ever before. Hello Nevada Fire Sate Council.

We were able to get the assistance of the federal watermaster and send temporary irrigation water through the meadows and flood the smoldering field. It helped but I still leave my shades open wondering if a breeze will bring the fire back to life. A foot of snow would be quite useful.

-- Ed Kleiner is a Centerville resident.


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