Thousands evacuate from Washoe fire south of Reno


10:35 a.m. PT, January 20, 2012

The Western Great Basin Coordination Center reported at 9:30 a.m. that the Washoe fire has burned  approximately 4,000 acres and is 50% contained The Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center web site which was updated at 9:30 this morning says 3,766 acres have burned.. At least 26 homes have been destroyed, according to the WGBCC. Highway 395 remains closed due to guard rail and other damage. Washam’s Type 3 incident management team assumed command at 6:00 a.m. today. Approximately 2,000 people are still without power due to downed power lines.

This is the second major fire for the Reno area in the last two months. On November 18 the Caughlin fire burned 1,847 acres and caused the evacuation of 10,000 residents on the southwest side of the city. It was also mopped up by a snowfall a day or two after the primary spread of the fire. The Caughlin fire destroyed 15 structures and damaged 40 others.

Here is some very impressive video footage that shows how the very strong winds, gusting up to 82 mph, made the Washoe fire extremely difficult to control.

5:55 a.m. PT, January 20, 2012

The Washoe fire south of Reno, Nevada is 50 percent contained and the spread has been stopped, according to Reno Fire Batallion chief, Tim Spencer. Approximately 27 homes have burned but 800 homes were saved in the East Lake area. There has been one fatality but no information has been released about the circumstances or the identity of the person. An estimated 3,700 acres have burned.

Highway 395 is still closed. Some firefighting resources en route from California were turned around in Donner pass due to the weather and chain controls.

There are reports that 6,000 to 10,000 people were forced to evacuate. Some of those have been allowed to return, reducing the number to 2,000.

Below is an updated map posted by Washoe County. It shows the fire size at  7:20 p.m. January 19 to be 2,000 acres. A larger version of the map can be downloaded HERE (large 3.5 Mb .pdf file). The lake at the bottom of the map is Little Washoe Lake. The red highway running roughly north and south is US 395. produced an easier to read map that shows the evacuation areas.

Map showing the estimated perimeter of the Washoe fire, produced by Washoe County at 7:20 p.m. January 19. has a gallery of photos of the fire. Many of them are excellent.

The National Weather Service predicts that the winds Friday morning will be southwest 10 mph. The wind will increase to 17-31 with gusts up to 49 in the late afternoon, but the chance of rain will increase throughout the afternoon, topping out at 99 percent by 4 p.m. PT. The rain should change to about 1 inch of snow early Saturday morning.

Because of the growing fire, Vice President Joe Biden was forced to cut short a speech he was making Thursday afternoon at a high school in Reno.

6:32 p.m. PT, January 19, 2011

At noon on Thursday a wildfire started north of Washoe Lake, between Reno and Lake Tahoe about 25 miles south of Reno. According to the Western Great Basin Coordination Center (WGBCC) at 5:54 p.m. PT, the fire had burned 3,000 acres, was zero percent contained, and “1,000 structures have been impacted”. They also report that Washam’s Type 3 Incident Management Team is being mobilized for the fire, named Washoe.


The electrical power has been shut off intentionally, affecting about 2,300 people.

Reno’s Mynews4 said 4,000 people have been evacuated and 1,000 of the structures that were impacted have been saved. And, “the amount of structures lost is currently unknown, until tomorrow morning”.  Additional areas may be evacuated; residents can call 211 or 337-5800 for more information. The Washoe County web site also has information about evacuations.

The Peppermill hotel-casino in Reno is offering  free rooms to anyone who lost their home in the fire. For those who evacuated and need a place to stay, rooms are available for $29. Those are interested in the rooms should go through the Red Cross or call 211.

Below is a map showing the estimated perimeter of the fire, updated at 5:30 p.m PT on Thursday. A larger version can be downloaded HERE (large 3.5 Mb .pdf file). The lake at the bottom of the map is Little Washoe Lake. The red highway running roughly north and south is US 395.

Estimated perimeter of the Washoe fire; 5:30 p.m. ET, 1-19-2012. Map provided by Washoe County.

An unofficial map can be found HERE. It may or may not contain accurate information, but it is easier to read.

The area is under a Red Flag Warning until 10 p.m. Thursday due to winds that have gusted up to 82 mph in Washoe Valley according to the WGBCC. The National Weather Service predicts that winds in the area Thursday night will be southwest at 23 mph with gusts to 39 until 10 p.m., after which they will decrease to 15 with gusts at 25-28 until morning. Friday the winds will increase during the day, topping out at 5 p.m. at 29 with gusts to 49. However, the chances of precipitation will be from 45% to 74% Thursday night through Friday, increasing to 100% Friday night. There is a chance of snow on Saturday.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

2 thoughts on “Thousands evacuate from Washoe fire south of Reno”

  1. Latest word is the cause was improper disposal of fireplace ashes by an elderly person. Saw it in the Reno Gazette Journal website.

  2. Thank you for the excellent reporting on this event, Bill. The photos at are alternately heartbreaking and frustrating. It is quite clear from the photos that a number of the homes have wood shake roofs, brush, grass and trees right up against walls, and lots of flammable vegetation and other material that is carrying fire to the structures. The homes in flames contribute greatly to the spread of this kind of fire as an enormous fuel package. I’ve posted a blog at Firewise urging readers to learn what they can do to reduce the likelihood of their homes igniting in similar conditions. It is my firm belief that these homes did not have to burn. Property owners must take action to keep their home from being a major fuel source during a WUI fire.


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