Sept. 1 target date for American Fire containment near Foresthill

Fire northeast of mountain community has burned since Aug. 10
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Blue skies instead of smoke -- and a target containment date of Sept. 1 instead of uncertainty about the American Fire -- greeted the Placer County Board of Supervisors during a briefing Tuesday by the fire attack team’s leader.

Incident commander Rocky Opliger, leader of the California Interagency Management Team that took over fire operations from the U.S. Forest Service over the weekend, told supervisors that weather and other conditions were pointing toward Sept. 1 to contain a fire that had spread to just under 15,000 acres.

On Tuesday, the American Fire was described by fire officials as 54 percent contained. That was up marginally from Monday’s 53 percent containment figure.

“We’re a long ways from getting there yet,” Opliger said. “But we’re pretty confident that the tactics we’re deploying will be successful.”

Opliger said that resources haven’t been able to be freed from other fires in the Western U.S., so containment will be achieved using crews and equipment from across California. A total of 1,813 people were working to control and extinguish the fire on Tuesday. That comprised 51 hand crews, 71 fire engines, 42 water tenders, 40 dozers and 13 helicopters.

“Anything before that (Sept. 1) will be great,” Opliger said. “We’ve got windows of opportunity that fire gives you occasionally.”

Opliger is commander on one of 16 fire management teams. He was also incident commander seven years ago on the 8,400-acre Ralston Fire near Foresthill.

“We know the severity,” Opliger said. “We see it not only in California but in the Western U.S. It’s an honor to be back in Foresthill. I wish it was for a different situation.”

While smoke had virtually cleared out of Auburn on Tuesday morning, the U.S. Forest Service is continuing to warn the public about smoke. People with respiratory problems should avoid exposure to smoke and minimize outdoor activity, health officials are advising.

Peter Frenzen, California Team 4 information officer, said smoke levels were also down Tuesday in Foresthill.

“It was actually pretty good but it caused increased fire activity,” Frenzen said. “Not having the smoke took away the shade and increased activity on the east side of the fire.”

Frenzen said one good development was spotted from the air. A swinging bridge that is considered a landmark along the Western States Trail in the American Fire area was seen intact, he said. The bridge crosses the north fork of the North Fork of the Middle Fork American River.