Latest: Nevada border fire ‘inactive’ but smoldering; officials deem blaze ‘human-caused’

Firefighters’ assault on a wildfire straddling the California-Nevada border made significant progress overnight – by Sunday morning, the 2,438-acre blaze was 50% contained and officials had lifted evacuations and road closures.

“Fires typically lay down at night, so we don’t expect much spreading, and it sounds like they’re getting a pretty good handle on it,” Adam Mayberry, spokesman for Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District, told The Sacramento Bee before midnight, but assessments in the morning showed significant effort was made.

The Bureau of Land Management, Carson City district, confirmed in a news release Sunday that the Long Valley Fire was “human caused” and asked for help from the public in its investigation, specifically anyone who was “on or near mile marker 11 of Hwy 395” in Lassen County “between noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday.”

The critical fire weather conditions were a primary concern Sunday. Roughly 180 fire crews secured the perimeter trying to keep lines strong, as west winds gusted to 39 mph.

“Fire is not active, but smoldering,” the tweet said. “(Firefighters will) focus on ensuring flames do not kick up from winds.”

The district told the Rancho Haven community in Nevada to keep alert in a 10:25 a.m. tweet.

The Long Valley Fire was spotted around 3 p.m. Saturday on sparse federal lands in Lassen County on the California side. The fire rapidly charred hill brush as it moved east along the Red Rocks area of Washoe County, Nevada. Authorities said better mapping showed the acreage was just above 2,400 acres around 8 a.m.

Before nightfall, it had consumed one structure with several outbuildings and was threatening 50 to 75 homes of the Rancho Haven community, about 25 miles north of Reno. But progress made by 35 engine crews and additional hand crews allowed authorities to re-open Red Rock Road, which connects southern Washoe County in Nevada to Hallejuah Junction and Beckwourth Pass on the California side, and lift the evacuations in time for breakfast.

Mayberry said that the night’s diminished winds and heat would help firefighters but that air support at daybreak would be a key component in battling the blaze. In a five-hour span Saturday, 16 aircraft made drops on the fire before dusk. In addition to Truckee Meadows, which protects a large swath of land in the county beyond Reno, personnel included those from the Bureau of Land Management and Cal Fire among others agencies in unified command.

Long Valley Fire in Lassen County

Red circles on this live-updating map are actively burning areas, as detected by satellite. Orange circles have burned in the past 12 to 24 hours, and yellow circles have burned within the past 48 hours. Yellow areas represent the fire perimeter.
Source: National Interagency Fire Center

Red Rock Road, which was closed from Highway 395 to Frontier Road, had reopened at midnight, though Mayberry said motorists should avoid the area. Fire had licked some residents’ backyards, which prompted the evacuations not long after the fire crossed the state line.

“It’s a very rural area, but there are a number of nice homes on larger lots (that are threatened),” said Mayberry, who added that horses and other livestock had been a risk and moved to the Livestock Events Center in Reno.

The fire of dry brush was pushed on by gusty winds. Sustained winds Saturday reached 30 mph, Mayberry said, as temperatures in the area topped 95 degrees and humidity dropped below 25 percent. Much of the same conditions are expected Sunday.

“The winds certainly made it difficult for us ... in very hot and dry conditions,” he said. “That ingredient here ... really presents a significant challenge.”

Mayberry said that like its western neighbor, Nevada northwest tier has seen fewer wildfires thanks to a wet winter and cooler temperatures through the summer. Daytime highs will likely stay higher in the region, however, as warm northerly winds ramp up in September – putting pressure on fire crews to pounce on vegetation that may have become tinder only recently.

“We’ve seen about a brush fire a day, but they’ve been small,” he said. “We’ve only had one significant brush fire recently ... thanks to a very, very hardy winter. So there’s an expectation the fire threat will increase exponentially.”

Temperatures are forecast to be well above normal through the next week, with the warmest conditions most likely Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.

But winds were the concern – strong breezes are expected in the afternoon and evening Sunday and could persist past midnight, the weather service said – and the threat of thunderstorms loom in the days ahead.

“We’re going to want to make a lot of progress tonight,” Mayberry said.

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Mack Ervin III covers breaking news and high school sports for The Bee. A journalism student at Sacramento State, he follows auto racing and most other sports.
Daniel Hunt is The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news editor; he joined The Bee in 2013 from The Orange County Register and has worked in editing and design roles at newspapers in California and Delaware.