Civilians help extinguish roadside fires near Auburn

Four blazes ignite near Highway 49
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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Six fire engines finished the work started by several civilians who helped extinguish four fires on the side of Highway 49 Thursday afternoon between Auburn and Grass Valley, a Cal Fire spokesperson said. The largest of the four fires was about 100 feet by 100 feet, and all were fully contained within about 10 minutes of Cal Fire’s arrival, said Vanessa Faulk, a communications operator for Cal Fire. Along with the engines, a hand crew, one plane, two water tenders and two battalion chiefs arrived shortly after noon, Cal Fire said. When Steve Clemente of Grass Valley was on his way to work at the Auburn Tattoo Company, he saw smoke coming from the side of the road and pulled over to help three others who had already begun working to put the fires out, he said. Using four gallons of water he had in his van for his radiator, he and two others extinguished two of the smaller fires, while another man he described as a AAA worker put out the other, leaving the biggest for the fire department, Clemente said. “I started using the water, and I had some towels in the truck and we started smothering them that way,” he said. “It would not have worked on the other fires because this was already mowed down and low. … But that stuff spreads fast. I was shocked.” Cal Fire said they had not determined the cause of the blazes. Clemente said his initial thought was arson, but one of the firefighters said it could have been something as simple as a chain dragging from a car in the slow lane.