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Smoke returns to 49 Fire site – to aid Auburn subdivision's recovery

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Smoke returned this week to a neighborhood hard hit by the 49 Fire. This time though, the smoke was safe – and its presence came with plenty of warning. Placer County environmental engineering division is spending three days pumping non-toxic “liquid smoke” into the sewer lines to test for leaks to the system. The work comes six weeks after a wind-whipped wildland fire roared through the Parkway Drive subdivision off Dry Creek Road, destroying dozens of homes. When that smoke had cleared, 63 homes and three business were destroyed. With the smoke pumped down manholes through the system, several spouts of white were spotted and their locations recorded for further evaluation. Bill Zimmerman, environmental engineering program manager, said Thursday that the white smoke emanating from the ground could signal a fire-damaged sewer pipe or the underground presence of a line that had been crushed by heavy equipment in cleanup efforts after the Aug. 30 fire. It could also be the location of the ground connection on a vacant lot to what normally would be a vent for sewer odors. Zimmerman pointed to smoke coming from pipes at the roofline of homes left standing in the area. Repairs will prevent stormwater from seeping into sewer pipes bound for the county’s North Auburn wastewater treatment plant, said environmental resource specialist Michelle White. And the repairs will take place while pavement has been removed from driveways at home sites, making it easier to get at damaged sections of piping. One of the most important tasks the county had in preparing for smoke testing was alerting homeowners to the work taking place. An electronic sign warned residents early this week at the entrance to the subdivision. County employees also went door to door to let property owners know. Smoke can sometimes come out of sinks, tubs, basins, showers and other drains during testing. For residents in the vicinity of the 350-acre 49 Fire smoke in the house could have been a disconcerting experience. George Laner, was working on tiling inside his brother’s house – one of the few that escaped destruction. The house remained standing on a cul-de-sac where all but three others were burned to the ground. “We had fair warning,” Laner said. “Which is good.”