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Foothills rain projections fail to dampen fall fire threat yet

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Rain is back in the National Weather Service foothills forecast for the first time since late June. But fire officials say that while it’s a good sign, it’s still too early to say what impact it will have in easing fire dangers in the tinder-dry foothills. The weather bureau’s Sacramento office was predicting a small system would move through Auburn overnight Monday, bringing up to a tenth of an inch of precipitation. Any rainfall would be the first since June 28. A heavier storm front is expected to move in from the west late Tuesday, bringing as much as an inch of rain overnight to Auburn and the foothills, meteorologist David Rowe said Monday. But any storm system will be gone by the weekend and the area should slip back into a high pressure system that will produce more dry weather and hotter temperatures, Rowe said. Still early in October, area fire officials were avoiding making their own predictions on the possibility of an easing of the fire danger. Cal Fire Unit Chief Brad Harris said Monday that state firefighting crews have dealt with a fairly mild fire season and some seasonal firefighters are preparing to be laid off as early as next week. But Cal Fire’s Placer-Nevada-Yuba unit is still watchful over what weather conditions will follow the short, rainy period. “The issue is what’s coming behind it, whether it’s a long-drying period or wet weather,” Harris said. “And we also have to be prepared to assist Southern California Cal Fire units.” Auburn Fire Chief Mark D’Ambrogi said the city department was also taking a wait-and-see approach with the forecast, realizing that moisture levels are still low in fuels that could possibly cause a wildland fire. “I think of Oct. 20, 1991 (the catastrophic Oakland Hills fire of 20 years ago) and remember that this is only the start of October,” D’Ambrogi said. In the Tahoe National Forest, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Ann Westling said Monday that firefighters have been tackling wildland blazes in past years as late as the Thanksgiving weekend. “Depending on how much rain drops, we could be back into fire season late into fall,” Westling said. “I can remember Thanksgivings when crews were working all weekend.” Over the past weekend, Westling said crews extinguished a 2.5-acre fire northeast of Truckee. A total of 75 fires were reported this year in the Tahoe National Forest – 44 caused by humans and 31 by lightning. The largest was the 13-acre Indian Fire in Sierra County. Westling said that with the cold and rain stretching into the early summer this year, the number and size of fires was reduced from average years. With cooler temperatures returning to the area, national forest officials are already shutting campgrounds. Three – North Fork, Big Reservoir and Tunnel Mills – have already closed. The rest – including the Sugar Pine campground near Foresthill are slated to close Oct. 18, Westling said.