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Foresthill evacuees remain hopeful

Flames have not ?robbed? residents of security
By: Michelle Read Journal correspondent
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Although the Robbers Fire has continued to scorch forest land between Foresthill and Colfax, residents of Foresthill and the surrounding area seem to be keeping calm. The small town responded quickly to the blaze when at 6 p.m. Wednesday, the first evacuees began to gather at the Foresthill Veterans Memorial Hall at 24601 Harrison Road. Homeowners packed their belongings, pets and even livestock headed for the evacuation center established by the Red Cross. Gene Koppenhaver, 80, was one such resident. Koppenhaver has lived on Yankee Jims Road for almost 30 years and Wednesday night he, along with his wife and daughter, evacuated for the first time. Although Koppenhaver described the transition as smooth and applauded the volunteers for their efforts, he said he was ?anxious to get home.? In the meantime, he does not feel too threatened. ?Actually, knock on wood, but I think we?re safe for the moment,? Koppenhaver said. Koppenhaver?s neighbor, Grace Miklos, 73, another longtime resident, reported that after 35 years in Yankee Jims, despite a handful of close call, she has never before had to leave her house. Still, she stays loyal to her roots. Despite receiving many offers to stay with friends and family, Miklos said, ?We?re gonna stay close to home.? The Red Cross provides food, water and a dormitory to sleep in, although many evacuees prefer to sleep in their cars to stay close to their pets and valuables. Volunteers have even coordinated with Animal Control to care for these animals, which so far have included ?four horses, dogs, cats and chickens,? according to David Kennedy, emergency services coordinator. Kennedy said his main job is to ?coordinate what volunteers are actually doing with the resources they need.? He then works with the Red Cross Chapter Office to meet those needs. He arrived at the hall at 6 p.m. Wednesday, around the same time as most of the evacuated residents. Three hours later, it as confirmed that the evacuees could not return to their homes and the evacuation site became a shelter. The shelter also provides another intangible but equally vital service: information. Wednesday night, Cal Fire came into the shelter with a map of the fire and explained to residents how the situation was developing. The shelter planned to hold the latest community briefing, as Kennedy called it, Thursday at 7:30 p.m. after receiving a message from the Emergency Operating System in Auburn. This line of communication makes the shelter a ?focal point not only for people who?ve evacuated, but a source of information for others, as well,? Kennedy said. Like Miklos, Koppenhaver, and other evacuees, Kennedy praised the volunteers he oversees. ?The Red Cross workers have been absolutely phenomenal, going above and beyond the call of duty,? he said. Kennedy also spoke highly of the support he has received from Placer County and the facility itself, which he claimed was a stand-out among the many other shelters he has seen in his work. Shops and markets in Foresthill have not lost business to the fire an continue their routine, employees said. Some businesses, like Worton?s Market, just outside of town, even chip in to the relief effort. Manager Amber Gentry explained that she and other workers ?take in some lunch and dinners??to the evacuation site. Gentry also said that among the market?s customers, there are ?a lot of people from Iowa Hill concerned about their homes and pets,? particularly as many own livestock. Sara Schnuck, owner of Foresthill Joe?s coffee shop, is one such homeowner. Although Schnuck lives on Todd Valley, a few miles outside of town, Schnuck said she has ?cages for the animals ready if something happens.? Like Gentry, Schnuck still operates her business comfortably. Many locals a ?better safe than sorry? perspective but are confident in their local fire department. ?My understanding is that we?re OK unless the wind blows our way,? said Doris Peeters, 66. Peeters lives on Spring Garden Road, just outside of Foresthill and sympathizes with people who are living in the middle of the scene. ?I feel bad for Colfax,??said Peeters. ?I?hope it (the fire) doesn?t come my way.? Capt. Matt Johnson with the Foresthill Fire Department said that he and his fellow firefighters are mostly concerned with the rising temperatures and the winds which ranged between 10 and 18 mph Thursday afternoon. Johnson said that such factors can build up the flames and the ?fire can develop its own winds.? Firefighters will continue to deploy helicopters as the area remains inaccessible to fire engines.