Fire crews focusing on hot spots in Reno fire

RENO - November 20, 2011

But in a twist that played out time and time again across the 2,000-acre fire, neighboring houses on either side were untouched by flames.

"It's just amazing - Murphy's Law," Austin Hardage said Saturday afternoon. "It didn't even touch either house on either side. It doesn't make any sense."

Their home is among the 32 that were destroyed by the unusual, out-of-season blaze that spread by gale force winds Friday and ripped through the Sierra foothills.

The fire was 95 percent contained by midday Sunday, and fire crews from throughout the region on Sunday were focusing on a few lingering hot spots, Sierra Fire Protection District Mike Brown said. They were also repairing areas where vegetation was burned and hillsides damaged by bulldozers in an effort to prevent mudslides.

Officials are also cautioning people to be wary of scam artists posing as contractors offering inexpensive repairs. Washoe County Sheriff's spokesman Armando Avina said the scammers "prey on victims of tragedy" and usually ask for money upfront.

Gov. Brian Sandoval was among a number of leaders who opined on Saturday that it was a miracle that scores more homes weren't lost. There are about 4,000 homes in the area.

"When you see something like that, you can't help but be struck by the awesome and random power of nature," Sandoval said about the blackened path of the fire that snaked along the edge of the foothills.

At times, the fire was moving 20 to 30 miles per hour and embers were jumping more than a mile, said Reno Fire Chief Mike Hernandez.

Although no official cause has been determined, Hernandez said all signs point to arcing power lines.

"The fire was much like a locomotive. It roared down the mountains and then ran down along the foothills," Hernandez said.

Many families "had to leave in the middle of the night with very, very limited possessions and they are coming back to devastation, to nothing," he said. "So our hearts and prayers go out to those families."

Austin Hardage explained how they awoke to a smoky, orange glow through the windows about 2 a.m. Friday.

With flames speeding down the hillside behind the Hardages' house, they decided to grab some clothes and the pets and flee, joining nearly 10,000 other southwest Reno residents in an evacuation.

"Three computers, two dogs and two rabbits. That's pretty much all we have now," Austin Hardage said, his voice giving way to some tears.

"I'm sorry," he told a reporter. "It hadn't really hit me until I start talking about it."

The house itself, located in an upscale gated community near Lakeridge Golf Course, is now "just glass and twisted metal."

A few miles away, Tim Sweeney ended up on the good side of a similar situation.

"The house directly south of me burned completely down," he said. But Sweeney's house - with stucco walls and a concrete tile roof - suffered relatively minor damage when blowing embers got underneath the tiles and started burning in the attic.

"Just about everything around the perimeter of my house is gone," Sweeney said. "Luckily, there was no real damage to the house except where they had to cut holes in the ceiling.

Sweeney, an architect who has lived there 25 years, said the flames had gotten within 100 feet of his home atop Windy Hill when he "finally had to get out of there."

Austin Hardage said he's been offered some replacement text books for his last four weeks of his senior year in search of an engineering degree at the University of Nevada, Reno. But his notes burned in the fire, as did a number of homework assignments.

"And I was all caught up," he said. "I had to email my professor to say I wasn't going to be there because my house was on fire."

Associated Press writer Josh Loftin contributed to this story from Salt Lake City.

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