1954 Earthquakes in Fallon Area—More Reminders that Nevada is Earthquake Country

A series of earthquakes as recent as 1954 occurred in the Fallon area. These were similar in size to the earthquakes this month near Ridgecrest, California and serve as a reminder that Nevadans do live in earthquake country.

The text below includes excerpts from this publication:
Damaging Earthquakes in Nevada: 1840s to 2008, by Craig M. dePolo

The damaging earthquakes briefly described on this map occurred during the period from the mid-1800s to 2008. They are the largest historical examples, but do not include all significant and damaging earthquake events in the state. These events and their descriptions remind us that Nevada is earthquake country and that earthquakes will produce strong shaking within our communities in the future. A wise course of action for Nevadans is to heed the lessons of past events, know how to react to an earthquake, and actively prepare for earthquakes. Many ideas to stay safe and protect your property from earthquakes can be found in Living with Earthquakes in Nevada on the web at www.nbmg.unr.edu (NBMG Special Publication 27).

1954, July 6
Rainbow Mountain Earthquakes
M 6.2 and M 6.1
On July 6, 1954 at 3:13 a.m. PST an earthquake of “major proportions” struck near the town of Fallon. The magnitude 6.2 event (Pancha and others, 2006) was felt from San Francisco to Wendover and from southern Oregon to just north of Las Vegas (Cloud, 1956). Eight men were injured, one with a fractured leg, at the Fallon Naval Air Station when barracks lockers fell on them while they were sleeping in their bunks (FS 7/7/54). More than a dozen buildings and businesses were damaged in Fallon (FS 7/7/54; FS 8/11/54). Damage was most severe to brick and concrete buildings and included cracked and fallen walls and plaster. Many chimneys fell or were damaged. A dam broke, and there was extensive damage to the Newlands Project irrigation system (FS 7/7/54). President Eisenhower declared the Fallon region a disaster area and made available $200,000 of disaster relief funding (FS 7 /14/54). Earthquake surface rupturing from the July 6th event was more than 18 km (11 mi) long, and the ground was vertically offset by as much as 35 cm (-14 in; Tocher, 1956; Caskey and others, 2004). Extensive liquefaction occurred, accompanied by water spouts, ground settling, and the filling of irrigation canals with sediment (Steinbrugge and Moran, 1956). A magnitude 6.1 aftershock occurred on the afternoon of July 6, only 11 hours after the mainshock and extended the surface ruptures to the south (Caskey and others, 2004).

1954, August 23
Stillwater Earthquake
M 6.8
The Stillwater earthquake struck the Fallon region on August 23, 1954 at 10:51 p.m. PST and was estimated to have been magnitude 6.8 (Pancha and others (2006). It created 53 km (33 mi) of surface faulting (Caskey and others, 2004). This was a right-lateral strike-slip earthquake with some normal offset, and the largest surface rupture had about 1 m (-3 ft) of right-lateral strike-slip offset (Caskey and others, 2004). In Fallon, seven buildings were damaged (FS 8/25/54; FS 9/1/54). Of these buildings, three, including a school building, were so severely damaged they had to be torn down. Chimneys were thrown down or cracked, windows were broken, and there was a lot of nonstructural damage (FS 8/25/54). A four-inch water main was broken in two places (FS 8/25/54). Again there was extensive liquefaction in the Fallon area (Murphy and Cloud, 1956). Unfortunately, a large part of the emergency remediation work conducted on the canal system was completely obliterated by the Stillwater earthquake (Murphy and Cloud, 1956).

1954, December 16
Fairview Peak–Dixie Valley Earthquakes
M 7.1 and M 6.9
On December 16, 1954 there were two large, back-to-back earthquakes east of the Fallon area that were felt throughout Nevada and created several large ground ruptures. The first event, the Fairview Peak earthquake, a right-normal-oblique-slip event, occurred at 3:07 a.m. PST and had a magnitude of 7.1 (Pancha and others, 2006). This was followed four minutes and 20 seconds later (3:11 a.m.) by a magnitude 6.9 event, the Dixie Valley earthquake, a normal-slip event (Slemmons and others, 1965). Both earthquakes created spectacular surface ruptures over a total area of 100 km (62 mi) long and 14.5 km (9 mi) wide, with ground offsets of as much as 3.8 m (12.5 ft) vertical and 2.9 m (9.5 ft) right lateral (Slemmons, 1957; Caskey and others, 1996). The earthquake was in a sparsely populated region, and there were no reported injuries and only minor building damage and content losses. In Dixie Valley, an “adobe cellar, gasoline tank and water tank, and stone wall collapsed”, a stove moved several feet, and a woman was thrown from her bed due to the shaking (Murphy and Cloud, 1956). In one living room, a piano “kangarooed” its way to the opposite side of the room during the shaking (FS 12/22/54). In the surrounding region, dishes broke, walls and chimneys were cracked in the towns of Austin, Luning, Mina, Rawhide, Fallon, Lovelock, Eureka, and Carson City (Murphy and Cloud, 1956). Damage in Carson City included cracked walls and fallen plaster in the Capitol building, the State Printing Building, and the State Prison (Murphy and Cloud, 1956). Water lines were broken at Lovelock, Mina and near Gabbs (Murphy and Cloud, 1956).

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