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Firefighters knock down 2-acre Auburn fire

Officials warn wildfire threat remains high
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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A grass fire burned about two acres of an open field near Bell Road and Richardson Drive in the middle of an Auburn residential area before being fully contained Wednesday afternoon, a reminder that the threat of wildfire remains high, Cal Fire officials said.

The blaze burned particularly close to one house, but Battalion Chief Jeff Brand, Cal Fire’s incident commander, said the fire did not cause any injuries or structural damages.  The cause of the fire is still being investigated, he said.

“Some of the challenges we’re currently experiencing are that we’re late season, approaching the first of October with no rain fall and the fuel conditions already this year – because of the lack of rainfall throughout the winter – are posing significant issues for us,” Brand said.

“As early as June, (fires) were burning like they would two months in advance. So now here we are, it’s a little breezy out here, higher temperature coupled with extremely dry fuels. The control of the fire gets a lot more difficult.”

The field’s perimeter is lined mostly with homes and some businesses, which prompted Brand to summon additional help soon after the initial response, he said.

Cal Fire, Placer County Fire Department and Auburn Fire Department combined to dispatch six fire engines, one bulldozer and, as a precaution, a few planes for air support, Brand said.

Cal Fire received a report of the fire at 12:48 p.m. and crews reached 75 percent containment little more than an hour later, Brand said.

Amid trees and bushes, engines scattered in the field around the site of the initial blaze, which sparked multiple other fires in the field, he said. A wide swath of gray smoke could be seen billowing in the sky from a couple miles away on Highway 49.

Rob vanLeemput, property manager of the lot, said he arrived at the site about five minutes after the fire started so he could open gates for the fire crews to enter.

“I’m glad that they put it out as quick as they did,” said vanLeemput, who estimates his lot encompasses about 10 acres. “They responded very fast and put it out before it became a problem for anybody else in the area, which is wonderful to know that they’re here this quickly.”

Mario Pereira, facilities manager for Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital on Education Street, said the fire prompted the hospital to form an incident command center and shelter its patients in place.

“We’ve mobilized some staff out behind the hospital in case embers, whatever, come our way,” Pereira said as firefighters had the fire three-quarters contained.

He said when he went to survey the fire around 1 p.m., “it looked pretty much under control,” but then it jumped a fire break before more resources arrived, and he wondered how much worse it would get.

“The wind was blowing toward the hospital, so I was a little concerned,” Pereira said.

It is a common misperception that the fire season peaks in summer, said Daniel Berlant, Cal Fire public information officer.

“Really, the end of September and start of October is when the state experiences its largest and most damaging wildfires,” Berlant said.

 

Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com.