ELKO – Another wildfire sent flames dangerously close to homes and closed a major highway on Thursday — one in a series of close calls during the 2017 fire season.
The lightning-sparked fire below the big “E” on Lamoille Summit moved up the hill toward Spring Creek during the noon hour on Thursday. By 2 p.m. the wind had shifted, pushing smoke and flames back toward Elko.
Lamoille Highway was closed to traffic in both directions around 3 p.m. The lanes were reopened by evening and traffic was being escorted through the fire scene.
BLM Public Affairs Officer Greg Deimel said structures near the highway were threatened but none had burned. There were no mandatory evacuations, but Deimel said the Elko County Sheriff’s Office advised residents in the immediate area of the potential danger.
Smoke and flames could be viewed from Elko as air and ground forces battled the blaze, which started around 12:20 p.m.
A single bolt from a small thunderstorm set off the blaze.
“I saw the lightning hit when I was at Khoury’s,” said Elko Daily Free Press sports editor Anthony Mori, who was returning to Elko from an assignment in Spring Creek.
Rain showers accompanied the storm but did not put out the flames.
By 8 p.m. the fire had burned approximately 279 acres.
National Weather Service radar showed a line of thunderstorms moving northward between Elko and Wells.
The closure of the highway prevented regular traffic from traveling between Elko and Spring Creek, a route used by thousands of commuters daily.
The highway’s closure did not impact emergency vehicles traveling to and from Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital, according to Public Relations Director Steve Burrows. He said emergency vehicles and patients driving themselves were allowed through during the closure.
The hospital’s emergency department, intensive care unit, obstetrics unit, and medical/surgical unit remained open throughout the day. By 6 p.m., hospital operations were back to “business as usual,” Burrows said.
“The firefighters have battled the blaze skillfully and tirelessly, and we are very grateful to them,” he said. “We are also thankful for our law enforcement officers who maintained order during this stressful time. Days like today remind us how fortunate we are to have such incredible men and women working in our emergency services.”
Impact on school buses was minimal, as only one bus from the school district was turned away.
“We were fortunate,” said School District Superintendent Jeff Zander. “I think we only run one bus up the summit. To the best of my knowledge we’re OK at this time.”
The fire follows earlier blazes this summer, including one that burned mostly unoccupied homes near Elko and closed Interstate 80 for hours.
The National Weather Service is calling for a continued chance of thunderstorms through Saturday night. That will be followed by a brief break before stormy weather returns mid-week.
“The firefighters have battled the blaze skillfully and tirelessly, and we are very grateful to them.” — Steve Burrows, Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital