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Marred in Reno’s driest winter in more than 120 years, residents had welcomed the forecast that a storm was due to blow across the Sierra Nevada this week.
Instead, thousands found themselves fleeing their homes Thursday afternoon.
Connie Cryer went to the fire response command post Friday with her 12-year-old granddaughter, Maddie Miramon, to find out if her house had survived the flames.
"We had to know so we could get some sleep," Cryer said, adding her house was spared but a neighbor’s wasn’t. She had seen wildfires before, but nothing on this scale.
"There was fire in front of me, fire beside me, fire behind me. It was everywhere," she said. "I don’t know how more didn’t burn up. It was terrible, all the wind and the smoke."
Fire officials said Thursday’s fire was "almost a carbon copy" of a blaze that destroyed 30 homes in Reno during similar summer-like conditions in mid-November.
State Forester Pete Anderson said he has not seen such hazardous fire conditions in winter in his 43 years in Nevada. Reno had no precipitation in December. The last time that happened was 1883.
An inch of snow Monday ended the longest recorded dry spell in Reno history, a 56-day stretch that prompted Anderson to issue an unusual warning about wildfire threats.
"We’re usually pretty much done with the fire season by the first of November, but this year it’s been nonstop," Anderson said.
Kit Bailey, U.S. Forest Service fire chief at nearby Lake Tahoe, said conditions are so dry that even a forecast calling for rain and snow might not take the Reno-Tahoe area out of fire danger.
"The scary thing is a few days of drying after this storm cycle and we could be back into fire season again," he said.
Associated Press writers Michelle Rindels in Las Vegas and Sandra Chereb in Carson City, Nev., contributed to this report.
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