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Fire near Reno burns homes, cuts short Biden speech

January 19, 2012 |  4:31 pm

Stoked by 80-mph winds, a brush fire surged through a valley between Reno and Carson City on Thursday, charring at least three homes, threatening more and forcing Vice President Joe Biden to truncate his visit to a local high school.

Flames chewed through sage brush and pine as they headed north toward the more populous Reno area, where a November wildfire sparked by arcing power lines destroyed about 30 homes.

“We are battling Mother Nature,” Armando Avina, a Washoe County sheriff’s deputy, told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “There is no sign of moisture. If the winds don’t cooperate and firefighters have to battle this fire in this wind, the damages could be very substantial.”

Smoke choked the air in a neighborhood called Pleasant Valley as deputies went door to door and begged residents to leave their homes. Authorities had already emptied out a nearby elementary school as flames up to 40 feet tall approached.

The tempestuous weather repeatedly hampered Biden’s visit to the area in advance of the state’s Democratic presidential caucuses this weekend, the Gazette-Journal said. His speech, which was scheduled for 11:30 a.m., was pushed back when fierce gusts forced Air Force Two to land in Fallon, Nev., about 60 miles east of Reno.

By about 1:45 p.m., when Biden began speaking, the smell of smoke wafted through Galena High School, the paper said. The vice president was soon told to wrap up his remarks, as fire officials needed to use the school gym as a command center.

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-- Ashley Powers in Las Vegas

Twitter.com/ashleypowers

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