Fires test emergency response limits
October 14, 2016
Fires burning in Carson City, Washoe Valley and South Lake Tahoe forced residents from their homes and stretched fire resources to their limit.
With three fires starting within eight hours of one another during a red flag warning for critical fire danger, regional resources were scarce.
East Fork firefighters responded to both the Clear Creek and the Little Valley fires on Thursday evening and Friday morning.
Members of Douglas County Sheriff's Search and Rescue went door to door in southern Carson City and aided with traffic control during that fire.
"Our fire resource capacity is at draw down," East Fork Chief Tod Carlini said on Friday. "That means what's here is here. If another fire were to break out regionally, we would be very limited in what we would receive. It would be down to on-duty non-committed resources."
East Fork has agreements with surrounding jurisdictions to support large firefighting efforts. But with those jurisdictions also fighting fires, that support will be limited if there was another big fire on the Sierra Front.
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High winds Friday morning limited aerial support for either the Washoe or Lake Tahoe fires.
Winds of up to 30 mph were blowing flames toward Carson City during the worst of the Clear Creek fire.
The National Weather Service clocked winds at 87 mph at 12:38 a.m. in Little Valley, less than two hours before the 3,500-acre fire was reported.
Carlini, who also serves as Douglas County emergency manager, said that if another large fire were to break out, fire officials would probably pool their resources.
"We would look at these fires as a complex, where management of the entire situation would come under one authority and resources would be distributed appropriately," he said. "We would try to avoid competition for resources, which makes management of a fire much more difficult."
That happened with the Oct. 2 Frontage Road fire where there was another incident in Reno that reduced regional response.
"It's absolutely a matter of faith or luck of the draw or whatever you want to call it," he said. "If we had a fire (Thursday) night, with Carson doing the same thing, we'd have half the resources we have otherwise. We've had that happen a couple of times. It's better to look at the fires as one big event."
Carlini pointed out that Douglas firefighters are at a geographical disadvantage due to distances.
"We are geographically challenged in this state," he said. "It takes time to drive, and sometimes we're looking at 40 miles to get to a scene."
The Clear Creek fire was mostly out by 9 p.m., with firefighters extinguishing hot spots during the night. No structures were lost in the fire.
A high wind watch is in effect for Carson Valley through 5 p.m. Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.