Little Valley survivor describes fleeing flames
October 19, 2016
"You think 'I'm not sure what I am supposed to take' and you just run, you get in the car and go."
That was what was running through Shar Mason's mind as her family fled their home during the Little Valley Fire.
A neighbor called Mason and her husband at 4 a.m. Friday warning them to get out of their house.
"We did run for our lives," Mason said. "We got the call from our neighbors and we grabbed our stuff and ran."
Mason said while they were semi-prepared — they had an evacuation go-bag ready — it will still be difficult to figure out what else they needed as they evacuated their home.
"I grabbed my hair dryer and things that meant much to us like our spiritual cross and pictures," Mason said.
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The Masons emerged from the fire relatively unscathed. The fire missed their home and all they suffered was smoke damage inside the residence. Their next-door neighbor however wasn't as lucky. The family was out of town and it was Mason who had to break the news to them all of their possessions were destroyed.
"It was hard to tell her that everything she owned is destroyed, that nothing could be saved," Mason said.
The Mason's neighbors weren't the only victims. The Little Valley Fire burned through 2,291 acres and destroyed 23 homes and 17 outbuildings. Fire crews dealt with the difficulty of intense winds driving the fire, creating separate spot fires and hot spots off of the main flame. As of Tuesday morning, the Little Valley Fire was 90 percent contained, and Washoe County Emergency Manager Aaron Kenneston said they will now focus on the recovery phase of the fire.
"It is absolutely amazing, unless you have been in (this situation) you can't explain it," Mason said. "…It is an absolute disaster, it looks like a war zone like you see on TV. I don't think people realize what has actually happened unless you came through here and see."
Though some structures were lost, fire officials said the situation could have been much worse.
"Those guys did a bang-up job saving a lot of those homes," said Truckee Meadow Fire Battalion Chief Sam Hicks.
Fire crews from all over Northern Nevada assisted with the fire throughout the weekend. Truckee Meadows even tapped into the California master mutual aid plan and received 23 strike engines consisting of 150 engines and 400 personnel.
"It is hard to believe but it could have been tremendously worse," said Rod Collins, Section Chief of Incident Management, comparing the damage to other Nevada fires. "This fire had every bit of potential of loss of civilian life and more loss of structures."
Mason agreed the firefighters did an incredible job at keeping the damage minimal.
"It is unbelievable what they've done," Mason said. "I just want to thank all the people who worked here, our house was saved, but so many of our friends' was not. We can't thank Washoe County enough for what they have done for us and for the people who lost their homes, what they will do for them."
Residents were not able to return to their homes until Sunday, and many had to be escorted by firefighters to inspect their destroyed lots. Hicks said it took some time to get people back into their houses because the rain created problems with possible mudslides and officials wanted to make sure it was completely safe for residents to return.
Washoe County and Truckee Meadows have also set up several services to help victims of the fire with anything they may need and help them find the necessary resources to start rebuilding their lives.
"We come in and know the basics of what is needed and help get them moving in the right direction," said Erin Holland, spokesperson for Truckee Meadows Fire.
"The county will be there to give individual assistance and whatever they need.
"We have a broad based assumption of what people need and each situation is different so we have people on staff to provide assistance for specific needs."
Assistance could include food help, counseling, employment needs for those who worked from home and many more depending on the victim's needs.
"Every fire is traumatic and to the citizen who lost their home it is worse than can be imagined," Kenneston said. "This was a big fire and we sustained a lot of damage so now we have to look at what are the basic needs of the residents."
Washoe County Public Works and building inspectors have already started going through the damaged areas to do a preliminary Damage Assessment and next week, state and federal officials will come through to continue the assessment of the damage. They also were making sure the fire was cold and no new embers were present to re-spark the fire.
"We have passed the initial response phase and are into the recovery phase which will focus on meeting the unmet needs of the citizens," Kenneston said.
The county will then begin cleanup, making sure all debris and hazardous material is gone, draining irrigation ditches and regrowth of vegetation to prevent mudslides in the future.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
For victims impacted by this fire, Truckee Meadows Fire has set up a phone line for residents to call and receive help and assistance.
The line is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and after hour calls will be forwarded on and can be utilized for any needs residents may have. Victims can call 775-328-2003.
All residents are allowed to return to their homes. Residents are required to enter from the south end of Franktown Road and must show identification. Fire crews will be using north Franktown Road to reduce traffic congestion in the area.
Franktown Road remains closed.