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Thursday, January 19, 2012 - 5:45pm

Thousands Evacuate As Fire Burns Toward Reno

Updated: 2 years ago.

Wind gusts of up to 82 mph pushed a fast-moving brush fire south of Reno out of control Thursday as it burned several homes, threatened dozens more and forced more than 4,000 people to evacuate their neighborhoods.

Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez said more than 230 firefighters were battling the blaze, which had grown to nearly 5 square miles within hours.

It's the second time in three months that firefighters in Reno have faced a massive wildfire.

Hernandez confirmed "several" homes had been destroyed. He said he didn't know the exact number but told reporters "the news is not good." Officials said they won't have a definite number until tomorrow.

There were no immediate reports of any deaths or injuries.

A Reno television station reported at least 10 homes had burned since the fire broke out about 12:45 p.m. along U.S. Highway 395.

Gov.Brian Sandoval has declared a state of emergency and firefighters from California and eastern Nevada have been called to help.

The fire split into two parts on either side of a major roadway in the city. Heavy smoke reduced visibility to zero.

By nightfall, the fire had burned to the city's southern outskirts. Flames were visible 10 miles away in the downtown casino district.

"It's moving at a very fast rate," Avina said. "The winds are extremely powerful in this area."

Deputies went going door to door asking people to leave their homes in Pleasant Valley, Old Washoe Valley and Saint James Village, Avina said. They evacuated about 300 students from Pleasant Valley Elementary School.

Firefighters had zero containment of the blaze and were concentrating on using crews and trucks to protect homes in the path of the flames, Hernandez said.

He estimated firefighters had saved about 1,000 structures and said another 80 to 120 firefighters were expected to arrive on scene before midnight.

"To say we are in the thick of battle is an understatement," he told reporters.

Martinez said the fire was "almost a carbon copy" of a huge wild fire on the edge of the Sierra foothills that destroyed 30 homes in southwest Reno in November.

"It is a wind-driven event and a combination urban-wildland fire," he said.

The flames, up to 40 feet high, raced through sage brush, grass and pines in an area where small neighborhoods are dispersed among an otherwise rural landscape. Washoe County animal services officials were helping round up horses and other livestock for evacuation.

The American Red Cross opened an evacuation center at Damonte High School, where the children from the elementary school were taken.

Winds gusts of up to 82 mph were reported within a few miles of the fire, and a gust of 122 mph was recorded atop Slide Mountain, which is between the fire and Reno at the Mount Rose ski resort.

National Weather Service forecasters were predicting the storm would bring rain to the area Thursday night before turning to snow Friday night. High winds were expected to continue, with gusts up to 40 mph.

KUNR's Kate McGee contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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