#PoevilleFire: Grappling With Evacuations During A Pandemic

Jun 28, 2020

KUNR is providing updates on the Poeville Fire. Click here for more information. For the most current information about the Poeville Fire, visit @TMPFD and @HumboldtToiyabe on Twitter.

Hundreds evacuated from neighborhoods north of Reno Saturday as the Poeville Fire burned multiple structures. 

Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District officials said on Sunday morning the fire had charred approximately 3,500 acres. As of Sunday morning, firefighters had built containment lines around 10 percent of the burn area. More high wind gusts and dry conditions are expected through late Sunday.

And like nearly every other aspect of American life, the pandemic has changed how wildfire evacuations operate.

At the American Red Cross evacuation center in Reno, smoke clouds darkened the orange sunset Saturday night behind the parking lot of the Washoe County government complex. Families who had evacuated from the North Valleys sat in or nearby their cars, socially distancing from one another, watching the smoke, and waiting to find out where they would spend the night.

Yohana Palomino spent much of Saturday preparing to evacuate before her family was ordered to leave. She went to the evacuation center along with her husband and her two youngest children: a three-year-old daughter and a five-month-old son.

“We live in North Valleys Mobile Home Park,” Palomino said. “I was putting water on my house, and he was crying, but I was holding him; he wanted to go to sleep.” She said she has family in town, but they have limited space, and she doesn’t want to put them at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Betsy Morse is a volunteer for the American Red Cross. She said if there wasn’t a pandemic going on, things would be operating differently.

“Normally, we’d have everyone go into a gym,” Morse said. “We’d have food set up; they could serve themselves. People would just be sitting around playing games, waiting for information.”

The Red Cross team worked Saturday with local hotels to find free places for evacuees to sleep. “It also changes the sheltering piece, because usually we have people sleeping in gyms,” Morse said, “and now that is, instead of our first option, [it] is our last option.”

For Palomino and her family, they were ultimately able to find a place to spend the night Saturday. She said with the virus and the resulting dismal economic situation, the community doesn’t need any more emergency situations.

“I pray to God [for] everything to be okay because we don’t need no more disasters. No more, no more, please,” Palomino said. “We need to get involved and participate for this not to happen.”

Firefighters continued to battle the Poeville Fire through Sunday.