- Associated Press - Sunday, June 21, 2015

RENO, Nev. (AP) - A wind-whipped wildfire moved closer to the tiny Sierra Nevada town of Markleeville, California, on Sunday, and authorities were telling residents to be prepared to evacuate.

The Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center in nearby Minden, Nevada, reported the fire exploded in size from roughly a half square mile, or 350 acres, on Saturday to 10 square miles, or 6,500 acres, on Sunday.

Center spokeswoman Elizabeth Kenna said she was unsure how close the fire was to the Alpine County seat, but it was threatening five homes and 15 historic cabins. Occupants of the five homes and an unknown number of campers were evacuated. The fire also shut down Highway 89 over Monitor Pass and Highway 4 over Ebbetts Pass.

“Right now, they’re focusing on keeping the town safe. That’s the primary concern,” Kenna said Sunday evening. “There’s definitely been extreme fire behavior.”

The Washington Fire began Friday evening about 10 miles south of Markleeville and 75 miles south of Reno, and wind gusts up to 40 mph were pushing it in a northeast direction.

More than 300 firefighters were being hampered by steep, rugged terrain and a lack of vehicle access in their battle against the blaze. Dry vegetation and timber after four straight years of drought were fueling it.

Kristin Slavik, a clerk at the Markleeville General Store, said authorities warned residents to be ready to evacuate. It’s nothing new as past wildfires also threatened the historic town of about 200 people, she said.

“It’s very worrying,” she said. “We’re trying to remain calm as best we can. We’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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