Senior admits to sparking wildfire

Senior admits to sparking wildfire

20 January 2012

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USA — AN ELDERLY man who improperly disposed of fireplace ashes may have sparked a deadly bushfire in Nevada.

The man came forward on Friday and told authorities he could have caused the fast-moving fire south of Reno, Nevada that has killed one person, destroyed 26 homes and forced thousands to flee their homes.

“An elderly male came forward in regards to improperly disposing of fireplace ashes,” Washoe County Sheriff’s Office spokesman J. Armando Avina said.

“This is still on ongoing investigation and once it’s completely it will be forwarded to the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office for review.”

Mr Avina said the blaze – which started in Washoe, about 32km south of Reno on Thursday – was 65 per cent contained as of 1:00pm local time on Friday with about 2000 residents still evacuated from their homes.

Local officials warned earlier that an expected burst of rain – the first real precipitation in the area in nearly two months – could now cause flooding on the charred land.

The fire, fanned by winds gusting up to 95km/h, had burnt about 1578 hectares by Friday, Washoe County Sheriff Mike Haley said.

“We can confirm the loss of 26 homes,” he said, adding, “I would say the firefighters did an enormously good job holding down the damage.”

Fire officials said one person – reported by the Reno Gazette-Journal to be a woman who was believed to have suffocated as a result of the fire – was dead and up to 10,000 people were forced to evacuate at the height of the blaze.

About 17km of US 395 – a major north-south highway in the western USA – remained closed because of the fire, but was expected to reopen between 10:00pm and midnight.

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, who on Thursday made a state declaration of emergency which qualifies local governments for federal assistance, described the damage caused by the fire as “horrendous” and thanked emergency service staff for their work.

“For me, we are so fortunate and blessed to have men and women who are so committed,” Mr Sandoval said.

Emergency crews earlier escorted evacuees in two burn areas to see their homes, the Gazette-Journal reported.

Resident Julia Mihailova, 31, said her home was narrowly spared. “Just shocking,” she said. “They stopped [the fire] just two feet (60cm) away from the house.”

The fire Thursday forced Vice President Joe Biden to cut short a speech he was giving at Galena High School.

Mr Biden, who arrived at the school late due to bad weather, was talking to students about the importance of higher education when White House staff told him he had to leave earlier than planned, as the fire became worse. The gym he was speaking in also needed to be cleared so it could be used as a fire command centre.

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