With a looming fire season that forecasters predict could be one of the worst northern Nevada has seen in decades, dry grass and wind gusts reaching 40-miles-per-hour could put Sun Valley in the center its own firestorm.
Small windows, flimsy walls and lightweight construction are just some of the reasons mobile homes are far more dangerous than stick-built homes in a fire. And Sun Valley is filled with streets lined by old and new model mobile homes.
Sunday’s fire, involving T.J. Canfield’s family complex on Chocolate Drive, resulted in the total destruction of several housing structures, including that of his neighbor’s.
Canfield’s mother, who went back inside her trailer to unsuccessfully retrieve her cats, was severely burned in the process. The fire swept through and engulfed the trailer in 30 seconds — so quickly, her son was forced to throw a chair through the back sliding glass doors to get his mother out of the home.
What excavators left behind, after attempting to snuff out the last of the embers, was a 15-foot high pile of bent, melted metal, snaking through the property at least 25-feet in length.
“You see where that tire is?” Canfield said as he pointed to a small tire atop the pile. “That’s the front tire to my trailer. Now, you tell me … how did my front tire end up in the middle of what used to be my mother’s kitchen sink?”
As Canfield looked over the still smoldering chunks of debris Monday, burned out cars and melted aluminum, neighbor after neighbor stopped by to check in.
“These people are actually really good people out here,” Canfield said.
One woman from a charity stopped by to ask if he needed food from food pantry. He accepted.
Canfield picked through the rubble Monday, looking for many items that might have survived the burn, only to come up empty handed. The most precious items were two boxes, one filled with gold, he said. After working in a gold mine in Virginia City for many years, and being paid with raw gold instead of cash bonuses, Canfield said that fire-proof box he had stored the gold in was missing.
“There’s a bunch of missing stuff,” he said. “One of those safes has quite a bit of gold. It was full of gold.”
A misunderstanding with fire and sheriff’s office representatives cleared up a matter that determined neither agency had taken possession of the safes. Canfield was told he should file a police report for the gold.
After a full day of searching, he could not find a hint of any safe in the entire pile of debris, he said. “I’ve pretty much tossed it all.”
Destroyed were two minivans, two trucks, his mother’s Saturn, a Thunderbird vehicle, two motor homes, one mobile trailer and countless household items.
The Reno Fire Department responded to the blaze Sunday, as the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District has not been fully put into place. However, after July 1, response to the area, when Truckee Meadows responds with three-man crews and it may possibly need assistance from other agencies, could become more complicated, said Michele Anderson, spokesman for the Reno Fire Department.
“Mobile Homes go up quick,” Anderson said. “After July 1, it will be a big deal the way Washoe County’s fire department will be about to handle the call. They’re obviously going to have to call for help.”
The cause of Sunday’s fire has yet to be determined, Anderson said.
“I lost everything, everything,” Canfield said.
Canfield had lived at the site for 23 years, and was known by many neighbors in the area. He is on 100 percent disability, he said.
A representative from Farmer’s Insurance was on scene to assess the damages and provide immediate assistance to the family in any form necessary, she told Canfield.
“So many people have offered everything. It makes everything you’ve lost a little bit easier,” Canfield said. “It gives you a little bit of hope for mankind.”