Pinehaven Fire investigators combing power line data as probe into the cause continues

Nevada News

Investigators working on the Pinehaven Fire are combing through power line data as the search for a potential ignition source continues.

Reno Fire Marshal Tray Palmer confirmed that the team has received power line data from NV Energy, which is assisting in the investigation. Power lines are just one of several potential heat sources that investigators are looking into, according to Palmer. 

“Right now, we really can’t comment because we’re still processing the scene as far as potential heat sources,” Palmer said on Thursday morning. “But we’ve determined the approximate area where the fire started.”

More:Pinehaven Fire destroys 5 homes destroyed, 3 others heavily damaged

The potential area of origin for the Pinehaven Fire is seen just uphill and to the west of Pinehaven Road and Broken Arrow Road in the Caughlin Ranch area of Reno on Nov. 18, 2020.

The Reno Fire Department announced that investigators finished processing the hillside site by Thursday afternoon.

The Pinehaven Fire tore through southwest Reno neighborhoods Tuesday, pushed by 60 mph wind gusts. It burned more than 500 acres, destroying five homes, heavily damaging three more and causing minor damage to 21 homes. As of Thursday morning, it was 95 percent contained. 

“Our team is now in the process of analyzing collected evidence and interviewing witnesses,” Palmer said. “It may take up to a week before we can release a conclusion, but at this time there is no evidence of malicious intent.”

Investigators are honing in on an area just southwest of the intersection of Pinehaven Road and Sierra Pine Drive, where the Caughlin Ranch housing development meets the sagebrush-covered hills on the western edge of the city.

The trigger point for the Pinehaven Fire was determined to be at least “several hundred yards if not more” from the starting point of the Caughlin Fire nine years ago, according to Palmer. While the Caughlin Fire started more inside the canyon, the Pinehaven Fire started closer to the houses atop Pinehaven, Palmer said.

The 2011 fire has been frequently mentioned in relation to the Pinehaven Fire, with Reno Fire Chief Dave Cochran describing them as “remarkably similar” on Wednesday. 

“This is a mirror image of the Caughlin Fire that was in the same area nine years ago to the day,” Cochran said.

The site of a destroyed home on Buckhaven Road is seen as a result of the Pinehaven Fire in the Caughlin Ranch area of Reno on Nov. 18, 2020.

One common factor was weather, with strong winds whipping through the valley when both fires started. The cause for the Caughlin Fire was ultimately traced to power lines, which is one reason Pinehaven Fire investigators are looking at power line data. 

NV Energy declined to talk about its power line readings on the day of the Pinehaven Fire when asked by the Reno Gazette Journal on Wednesday, citing the ongoing investigation. The utility, however, confirmed the time that it de-energized its lines, which was shortly after the fire started on Tuesday.

More:Wildfire-prone West Reno burns three times in less than 15 years. Here’s why

“We did de-energize for safety,” said Kristen Saibini, spokeswoman for NV Energy. “The Reno Fire Department requested that we de-energize power … in the Caughlin Ranch area (Tuesday) beginning at 1:21 p.m. to 7,173 electric customers.”

The first call reporting a fire at Pinehaven Rd. came in at 1:03 p.m., according to Palmer.

NV Energy added that it continues to assist in the investigation, which also includes investigators from other agencies such as the Nevada State Fire Marshal’s office, Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District, North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District and the U.S. Forest Service.

While NV Energy is part of the investigation team, the utility’s role is limited, Palmer said.

Firefighters work in a charred area by the Pinehaven Fire on Nov. 19, 2020

“Because of all the potential heat sources out there, NV Energy is involved in a sense where they are providing data for the power lines and also equipment so we can access those power lines,” Palmer said. “Right now, their only role is equipment access and information.”

The Reno Fire Department continues to be the lead agency investigating the Pinehaven Fire, which occurred in its jurisdiction. Palmer declined to talk about the data it has received from NV Energy at this time, saying investigators are still in the midst of looking into it.

“Right now, we are processing that data so I can’t comment on that because it’s part of the investigation itself,” Palmer said. “We have to match all that with dispatch records and witness statements before we can complete everything.”

HELP WITH PINEHAVEN FIRE INVESTIGATION

Reno Fire Marshal Tray Palmer is asking for help from the public for additional information about the Pinehaven Fire. These include videos, images and other information that can be used to assist with the investigation. People with information can call 775-334-2300 and also reach out to the Reno Fire Department via Secret Witness.

Jason Hidalgo covers business and technology for the Reno Gazette Journal, and also reviews the latest video games. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhidalgo. Like this content? Support local journalism with an RGJ digital subscription.

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