Reno wildfire cuts Biden's speech short

RENO -- Vice President Joe Biden was forced to cut short a speech about college costs as a wind-whipped wildfire flared up and filled the Reno high school where he was speaking with the smell of smoke.

Bad weather already had delayed Biden's arrival when aides summoned him off stage 25 minutes into his Thursday afternoon speech at Galena High School. He told the audience he would have to move on to a question-and-answer time before officials "made me get out of here."

"This is an awful thing to do to you guys. I come here an hour and a half late, and then they set a fire," said the vice president, who arrived more than two hours behind schedule. He then took 15 minutes of questions from the students.

The fast-moving brush fire had burned several homes as it moved through a valley south of Reno. Many more homes in the area were threatened. More than 10,000 people had to evacuate their neighborhoods.

Before his speech was cut short, Biden spoke to hundreds of high school students about the importance of a higher education in a changing economy, telling the students they should "beg and borrow and figure out how to get to college."

He also told them China and other global competitors had awakened a sleeping giant in America's youth.

"In five years you're not going to hear the word outsourcing. You're going to hear the word insourcing," Biden said.

His trip comes as Nevada Democrats prepare for Saturday's presidential caucuses and as President Barack Obama plans a stop in Las Vegas next Thursday.

The Democratic running mates who carried the Western swing state in 2008 are bidding for a repeat performance in the November election.

Biden came to Reno after a stop in San Francisco. High winds prevented him from landing in Reno, and he was diverted to Fallon, a city 60 miles away, before arriving at the high school for the shortened speaking engagement. Meanwhile, his wife, Jill, visited with nurses at a Reno hospital to discuss health care issues.

"We're very disappointed," said spokeswoman Irene Payne of the Washoe County School District. "All the students and the parents have been looking forward to this, but it's Mother Nature, and we can't control that."