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Western States Trail, Gold Rush ghost towns in American Fire path

Smoke-filled American Fire grows overnight northeast of Foresthill
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A fire in steep, inhospitable terrain northeast of Foresthill grew overnight Monday and the U.S. Forest Service was digging in Tuesday for a long fight with a stubborn foe that threatens historical back-country icons.

The American Fire, located 17 miles from Foresthill and 34 miles from Auburn, was sending smoke into Auburn on Tuesday morning as the burn footprint grew from 1,200 acres late Monday to 1,750 acres.

Kathy Van Zuuk, Forest Service spokeswoman, said Tuesday that a portion of the Western States Trail was within the fire perimeter in the Deadwood Ridge area, but there was no information on how much damage had been caused.

The fire is also in the vicinity of the historic Gold Rush ghost towns of Last Chance and Deadwood, which contain grave markers and remains of structures from that period. Van Zuuk said that the fire was burning closer to Last Chance. Structures at Last Chance had been protected and there have been no reports of any lost historical resources, she said.

The fire’s impact on the Western States Trail, a historic pathway used for both the Western States 100-mile endurance run and Tevis Cup 100-mile horse ride, will be evaluated after the fire to determine whether measures are needed to repair damage, Van Zuuk said.

An investigation into the cause of the fire and where it started is ongoing as resources are concentrated on containing the damage, Van Zuuk said.

 A total of 318 people were being deployed Tuesday on the American Fire, which was initially reported late Saturday afternoon. The burn area is located between Foresthill and Mosquito Ridge roads in heavy Tahoe National Forest timber.

The Forest Service said the fire is actively moving up and down the North Fork of the Middle Fork American River. Winds were light, with speeds ranging from 3 to 7 mph. Temperatures in the area of the fire rose 90 degrees.

“It’s in extremely steep terrain without roads,” Van Zuuk said. “The work is all being done by hand. We can’t use dozers.”

Smoke because of the heavy forest fuels that are burning was also making firefighting difficult, she said.

“They are very heavy fuels,” Van Zuuk said. “The area has not burned in 30 years.”

Because of terrain difficulties, the state’s DC-10 water bomber was brought in for drops Tuesday afternoon.  On the ground, no injuries had been reported on the fire line, Van Zuuk said.

The Forest Service has not estimated a possible containment target date but is continuing to fight the fire aggressively, Van Zuuk said.