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DISASTERS

Nev. wildfire guts homes, casts haze over Vegas

A wind-driven wildfire that erupted in a rural neighborhood near the Nevada-California border and destroyed two homes was moving away from houses Wednesday, authorities said.

No injuries were reported in the blaze in the Topaz Ranch Estates about 50 miles southeast of Lake Tahoe, though smoke has drifted hundreds of miles south to the Las Vegas area.

Between 100 and 200 homes were under threat when the fire broke out Tuesday — possibly after a controlled burn on residential land rekindled in winds gusting up to 40 mph, authorities said. Authorities had earlier reported that least seven homes had been destroyed.

Officials have recommended that residents of as many as 40 homes voluntarily evacuate as a precaution.

"Luckily the fire is kind of moving back up into the hills away from homes but the wind shifts around here and could move back down," Douglas County Sheriff's Sgt. Jim Halsey said after more than 5 square miles of mostly sage brush and juniper had burned.

The Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center said the fire had scorched about 4,500 acres, but some agencies estimated the size as closer to 5,000 acres.

Air crews and about 450 firefighters on the ground have the fire about 10 percent contained. Four air tankers and five helicopters had been deployed to the blaze.

Halsey said the fire had burned less than 10 acres when crews arrived but the wind "just took off and was growing like gangbusters."

"It shot across the valley real fast," said Diana Richardson, 69. The disabled woman said she and her husband were "just sitting here minding our own business" when they noticed flames halfway up a hill near their house in Topaz Ranch Estates. "It was scary."

Strong winds gusted steadily through Tuesday across a region that has seen very little moisture all winter, leaving vegetation dry and extremely flammable. The National Weather Service said conditions were expected to diminish Wednesday with winds forecast at 5 to 15 mph.

Gov. Brian Sandoval said he has not declared a state of emergency but has asked for federal grants for fire victims.

"We'll do whatever it takes," he said late Tuesday. "We're throwing everything we have at this."

Betty Hathaway, 52, said the fire started behind her home in the foothills of the Pine Nut mountains and that a house two doors down "completely burned down."

"It was just a wall of fire," she said. "It is unbelievable my house did not burn down."

Hathaway said she boxed up five kittens to drive them to safety along with two dogs and two horses but one of the horses was spooked and wouldn't load into the trailer.

"Some guy named Jeff came out of nowhere and helped walk the horse down the road to a safe place," she said.

Halsey said officials suspect that a permitted residential burn in the area was extinguished, but may have rekindled. He said the cause remained under investigation.

Todd Carlini, fire chief for the Douglas County-East Fork Fire Protection District, said residents are allowed to burn weeds or brush through June 4 but are required to check with authorities to see if conditions are safe.

"The vast majority of people are responsible with their burning," he said. He said neither Tuesday nor Monday would have been good days to burn but that it could have smoldered longer than that.

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Associated Press writer Scott Sonner in Reno contributed to this report.