Nov 21, 2011

A Local Tragedy

by Kristin Baker Przybyla

Some of you may already be aware of this, but Reno got hit over the weekend with a terrible tragedy. (Yet another in a long line of strange tragedies lately.) I'm posting a link to the article in our local paper, the Reno-Gazette Journal, because I'm pretty sure I can't save and post most of the article's pictures without buying them, and I'm not able to do that. The link may not be active in a few weeks' time, I'm not sure for how long RGJ archives their articles.

Late Thursday night, a few of my friends posted this haunting picture on Facebook, of our skyline on fire. Although I'd smelled smoke when I took the dog outside, I just assumed a lot of people were using their fireplaces. By 3:30 in the morning (I'm a shameful night owl, and was a bit too keyed up worrying about the fire to go to bed), I grabbed my daughter Emily and we headed out to see if the skyline really did look like that. (Emily attends an internet charter school, so her schedule is flexible. Lia stayed home, because she had a stage crew job in the morning.)

Now the smoke was bad outside! I was coughing already. We could only see a little bit of ominous glowing from the freeway, so I drove a little farther. My friends live in Northeast Reno, and I was worried. By the time we reached the area where they live, I realized the fire was a few miles south, so they weren't in any danger. We decided to drive down a little anyway (although keeping out of the way of emergency vehicles, we knew not to try getting too close). Suddenly, the midnight sky above us seemed to burst into flames. It turned a horrible reddish-orange, and when I turned down a side street to start heading home, we saw fire all around. We parked so we could see without me running into anything. I couldn't believe the sheer area it covered, going miles up and down the mountainside and jumping roads. This was the worst kind of night possible for a wildfire: dry conditions and 60 mph wind.

This link includes some pictures of what it was like. This Youtube video shows just how bad the wind was blowing.

The fire was consuming about 400 acres by 4:30, the time we got home, and by that afternoon it had grown to 2000 acres. School was canceled; we have occasional snow days, but this is the first time in my memory that we had a fire day. The winds continued to rage all day, blowing smoke directly into Sparks, where I live. It was no wonder schools were canceled, as people with breathing problems were urged to stay inside. Since I drove to drop Lia off at work and pick her up in downtown Reno twice for her split shift, my hair smelled like smoke by evening.

At least 32 homes were destroyed or damaged. So many residents in our community are thankful for the firefighters and emergency crews who worked through the night with the unpredictable wind to try to save homes. As someone who has grown up in the area and is familiar with wildfires, I know it could have been much worse. The really sad part is how close this happened to Thanksgiving and Christmas. The United Way has set up a fund to help people who have lost homes, and I think the Red Cross is accepting donations of jackets, clothing, bedding, and other items to help them while they're trying to put their lives back together.

I hope I don't sound smug in any way when I say that I'm so thankful for the home over our heads, our belongings, and our safety. Sometimes it takes a terrible tragedy to make you realize you should be more grateful for all that you have. My heart breaks for the families who lost so much over just a short weekend.


  1. wow. I turned the TV and other media off a few weeks ago because (1) everything I heard/saw was making me very angry or depressed and (2)not enough time! I hadn't heard about the fire. So sad...and frightening! We had one like that last year. I'm glad your friends were okay, too. My heart goes out to those who have lost their homes. hugs~

  2. Do they know how it started? Was it set on purpose, or lightning or something else natural?

  3. They're not exactly sure, but the current opinion is that the fire started from arcing power lines in the wind. Not surprising, because you wouldn't believe the wind that day! It blew a dresser over that we put out on the lawn to give away.

  4. Oh Kristin! I hope for the best. It is windy up in those parts and I hope they are able to confine it soon.


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