State of emergency declared in Reno wildfire

SCOTT SONNER
A firefighter tries to keep back the flames, whipped by strong winds, in Reno, Nev. Friday, Nov. 18, 2011.   Nevada firefighters  are battling a wind-whipped wildfire that has already burned several homes and caused several injuries. Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez sayfire crews are having a tough time "getting ahead of" the 400-acre blaze.  He also says flames broke off into two areas in Caughlin Ranch.  Hernandez says about a dozen homes have burned.   (AP Photo/The Reno Gazette-Journal,  Tim Dunn) NEVADA APPEAL OUT;  NO SALES
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A firefighter tries to keep back the flames, whipped by strong winds, in Reno, Nev. Friday, Nov. 18, 2011. Nevada firefighters are battling a wind-whipped wildfire that has already burned several homes and caused several injuries. Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez sayfire crews are having a tough time "getting ahead of" the 400-acre blaze. He also says flames broke off into two areas in Caughlin Ranch. Hernandez says about a dozen homes have burned. (AP Photo/The Reno Gazette-Journal, Tim Dunn) NEVADA APPEAL OUT; NO SALES

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Police in Reno went house to house in the middle of the night, pounding on doors and telling residents they had to evacuate as a roughly 450-acre blaze raged in rough terrain, destroyed homes and injured some people.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reported (http://on.rgj.com/vI2tRV ) that about 9,000 residents were under a voluntary evacuation order Friday.

Officials said 20 homes have been lost, several people have suffered smoke inhalation and one person suffered a cardiac arrest in the fire, which started about 12:30 a.m. in the Caughlin Ranch area and glowed orange on the hillsides through the night.

Firefighters don't know what caused it.

"The whole mountain was on fire," said Dick Hecht, a Mountain Springs Road resident who escaped with his wife first to a shopping center and later to Reno High School after waking to the smell of intense smoke about 1:30 a.m.

The view out the windows of their house was "this big red glow out there," Hecht said. "It was so smoky you couldn't hardly see."

The couple tried to return to before dawn to their home, but were turned back by high winds, Hecht said.

"I couldn't even stand up. It was like a tornado," he said. "I bet it was hurricane-force winds."

Hecht said flames suddenly erupted 100 feet nearby, and the retired couple drove down the mountain again with flames burning less than 40 yards from their vehicle.

Firefighters said they're having a difficult time getting ahead of the flames, which were being whipped up by high winds and gusts up to 60 mph.

"This fire is not going to be out any time soon," said Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez.

Ninety schools were closed for the day to clear the roads of school traffic and make way for emergency workers. About 125 crew members are fighting the blaze, dubbed the Caughlin Fire.

Two high schools are being used as shelters for hundreds of families who fled their homes. Officials have set up shelter sites for pets and livestock, and school buses are on standby to help with evacuations.

Evacuated families were shaken up by the fire.

"I thought it was an earthquake," Darian Thorp told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "We could see it from our window. ... Then I could see it from both sides. It was all around us."

Reno resident Kathy Harrah said she was panicking when an officer knocked on her door in the middle of the night. She ordered her son rip a computer out of a wall and load up household items in their truck as they evacuated.

"I was watching the fire all night," Harrah told the Reno-Gazette-Journal. "I didn't know it was going to get this bad."

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Associated Press writers Michelle Rindels and Ken Ritter in Las Vegas contributed to this report.