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Wildfires force evacuations in Emerald Bay area, destroy 19 homes in Washoe Valley

A trio of wind-whipped wildfires burning along the Sierra Nevada on Friday destroyed 19 homes north of Carson City, forced hundreds of evacuations at Lake Tahoe and temporarily closed a major highway connecting Reno to the mountain lake.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval declared a state of emergency as hundreds of firefighters battled the most dangerous fire, which was still threatening dozens of homes in the Washoe Valley along U.S. Highway 395 between Reno and Carson City. The powerful winds fanning the flames reached gusts in excess of 100 mph over the top of the Sierra early Friday.

Federal disaster funds have been approved to help fight the fire. Officials for the Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized the use of U.S. fire management assistance to cover as much as 75 percent of the eligible firefighting costs.

Regional FEMA officials in Oakland said late Friday that the threats posed by the fire in the Washoe Valley between Reno and Carson City would constitute a major disaster.

The so-called Little Valley Fire broke out about 1:30 a.m. in the mountains between Lake Tahoe and Washoe Valley about 8 miles north of Carson City. It has burned about 3 square miles, Truckee Meadows Fire Battalion Chief Alex Kukulus said.

“We’ve made good progress on the homes we are currently protecting,” Kukulus told reporters Friday afternoon.

But “we are not out of the woods,” he said. “We have active fire in the whole area and still no real containment.”

The wildland blazes forced the closures of numerous schools and roads, and triggered widespread power outages near the Nevada-California line. Nearly 10,000 residents were without power at one point.

A fire engine suffered significant damage but no injuries have been reported. In addition to the homes, seven large barns and seven other outbuildings have burned, fire officials said.

Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District Chief Charles Moore said the cause of the biggest blaze was under investigation. But he said it started in an area where a controlled burn had been conducted earlier this week.

The Emerald Fire in California broke out around 1:30 a.m. Friday and quickly consumed 200 acres, according to Cal Fire. By Friday evening, fire officials said the fire was not advancing, with a reported 210 acres burned and the fire contained at 80 percent.

Heavy rain and a large number of hazardous trees along Highway 89 and nearby homes were reported by 6 p.m. Friday. Cal Fire said crews would need to remove trees before reopening the highway.

“We’ve just got to make it safe for the public to re-enter the area, and until that’s the case (Highway) 89 will be closed,” said Brice Bennett, Cal Fire spokesman.

A high wind warning was issued by the National Weather Service for Lake Tahoe, with gusts over 50 mph predicted. Bennett said the rain caused soil where crews were working to become loose, creating an additional hazard.

By Friday evening, no structures were destroyed and no injuries were reported, Bennett said.

The El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office has issued an order that 500 residences be evacuated for the Tahoe Basin fire that is situated near Fallen Leaf Lake and Cascade Lake Trail.

The Sheriff’s Office is requesting that evacuated residents travel north on Highway 89 toward Tahoe City. Highway 89 is closed from Fallen Leaf Lake to Bayview Trailhead.

An evacuation shelter has been established at the South Lake Tahoe Recreation Center, 1180 Rufus Allen Blvd.

Firefighters had all but snuffed out another fire that destroyed at least one structure and had temporarily closed the Mount Rose Highway connecting Reno to Lake Tahoe.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Nashelly Chavez: 916-321-1188, @nashellytweets. The Bee’s Bill Lindelof contributed to this report.

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