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Robbers Fire danger remains as Cal Fire moves beyond containment

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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UPDATE: 5:30 P.M. JULY 20 - The recipe for large-scale disaster was almost complete in the Robbers Fire, but not quite. Gusting winds, low humidity and torrid temperatures nurtured the first flames into a roaring inferno spreading into the forested canyon between Colfax and Foresthill. At the Robbers Fire?s height, it required more than 2,000 firefighters to battle. A Cal Fire official said Friday that the timing of the fire ? about a month before forest fuels move into their driest period ? saved structures and lives. Scott Lindgren, Cal Fire division chief for south operations in the Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit, said that instead of a single home lost and no deaths, the fire?s start July 11 instead of later in the season may have been a lifesaver. ?If it was a month later, it could have burned 30 to 60 houses down near Foresthill, had major issues in Iowa Hill, burned all the houses in King?s Hill and jumped the (North Fork of the) American River and likely resulted in Colfax evacuations,? Lindgren said. With full Robbers Fire containment on the weekend, Cal Fire will still be on the job in the burn zone keeping a blaze from flaring up again. As well as firefighters from the Auburn-headquartered unit, a hired helicopter with a drop bucket will be stationed for the next month at the Bowman helicopter pad. The chopper will be dispatched in front of an engine crew to quickly judge the extent of a smoke source and be in position to drop water swiftly, Lindgren said. The tri-county unit is ready to take over fire management duties Saturday from an incident command team brought in from around the state and led by Chief Fred Flores, of Cal Fire?s Humboldt-Del Norte county unit. Cal Fire was reporting 90 percent containment Friday on the Robbers Fire ? enough of a step to move forward on the transfer. During a briefing Friday to the Greater Auburn Area Fire Safe Council, Lindgren said that the steepness of the terrain and the value of property that was threatened resulted in heavy costs to fight the fire. Cal Fire was estimating Friday that suppression costs had reached nearly $13 million. The state firefighting force reported Friday morning that just more than 900 personnel were working to complete the firefighting operation of a blaze that broke out July 11. ?Favorable weather conditions continue to aid firefighters in strengthening and holding fire lines,? Cal Fire reported. ?Unburned areas of brush, within containment lines, may continue to periodically burn.? A total of one residence and four outbuildings were lost to the fire as it spread from Shirttail Canyon Road and Yankee Jims Road, northwest of Foresthill. At its peak, 2,200 firefighters were battling high winds, low humidity and near-100-degree temperatures. But the Cal Fire force has made good progress since last weekend, aided by cooler temperatures and a drop in wind speed. While evacuated residents are being allowed back into the Yankee Jims and Brushy Creek areas of Foresthill, mandatory evacuation is still in effect for King?s Hill Road residents, in the Iowa Hill area. The Firesafe Council has been working with Auburn residents and finding grant funding to help build up a shaded fuel break on the rim of the American River canyon. Auburn Fire Chief Mark D?Ambrogi said the fire breaks in some locations near Foresthill and around some structures showed their value. ?It gives us a chance,? Lindgren said.