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Tamarack Fire: Determined Firefighters Turn Flames Back From Highway 395; Lightning Threat In Weather Forecast

DOUGLAS CPOUNTY, Nev. (CBS SF) -- Taking advantage of easing weather conditions, fire crews aggressively attacked the Tamarack Fire along Highway 395 Saturday using backfires, air support and an intensive ground effort to keep the flames from advancing any further eastward.

At daybreak Sunday, U.S. Forest Service officials said progress was being made near Holbrook.

"Firefighters secured the southern portion of the slopover, east of 395," officials. "They made good progress up to the northeast corner yesterday, and will monitor the line today, making sure it holds. Crews also are working in and around Holbrook, where there is still active fire. Fuels remain critically dry, and firefighters are being diligent in efforts to extinguish hot spots and ensure that fireline is secure."

Damage assessment teams visited the burn area near Leviathan Mine Road and uncovered significant structure damage. In all, 13 structures were damaged or destroyed.

However, there was some good news. The damage assessment teams did not find any structure damage in Topez Lake.

By Sunday, the fire -- burning through extremely dry brush, trees and chaparral -- had grown to 66,744 acres and was 27 percent contained. There were 1,557 firefighters on the line.

"The fire has presented some significant challenges like no other that I've seen for some time," said Douglas County sheriff Tod Carlini. "The weather conditions and fuel density in most areas has led to some erratic and dangerous conditions."

Carlini said as of Sunday morning all the evacuation orders remain in place in Douglas County. The blaze has triggered the evacuation of more than 2,400 homes across the fire zone in both California and Nevada.

That includes about 1,300 that were ordered evacuated for the first time Thursday when blowing embers ignited a new spot fire that jumped U.S. Highway 395 north of Topaz Lake on the California-Nevada line.

Among the evacuees was Ed Hill, who recounted his escape from the flames.

"There's a mountain right behind my house and the flames, the fire was coming right down," he said.

The fire was ignited by a lightning strike over the July 4 holiday in Alpine County south of Lake Tahoe. After smoldering for a few days and being monitored from the air, the flames roared to life more than a week ago and quickly grew.

Lightning was again in the forecast for the region beginning on Sunday as a band of monsoonal moisture was drifting into the area from the southwest.

"Challenges (Sunday) include smoke coming from the Tamarack Fire and the Dixie Fire, which is burning to the northwest," the forest service said in a release. "Reduced visibility could limit the use of firefighting aircraft. There is also the potential for severe winds and lightning caused by thunderstorms moving into the area this afternoon."

The Douglas County Board of Commissioners has declared a state of emergency and set up evacuation sites at a senior center and the Topaz Estates community center. Neighboring Lyon County also opened an evacuation center at Smith Valley High School.

Crews also continue to provide structure protection farther west in California near Markleeville, Woodfords and Crystal Springs south of Highway 88, but the worst danger has passed there, said Pat Seekins, operations section chief for the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team.

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