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August 31, 2009
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Auburn blaze: arson possible


Arson is a possibility for the cause of the 49 Fire in North Auburn that has consumed 50 homes and 10 commercial buildings since Sunday according to Calfire.

"There is some talk of arson, but that is being investigated and nothing has been confirmed," said Calfire spokesperson Mary Welna at 1:30 p.m. Monday.

"The governor (Schwarzenegger) was just here surveying the damage," Welna said. "It's very, very sad, it's gruesome."

Welna said overnight winds could whip the fire up again and people in the area should be alert and ready to evacuate at any minute. The Auburn Airport remains closed with fire danger at the end of the runway, she added.

There have been no injuries or fatalities due to the blaze, Welna said. The cost of the fire has reached $1.1 million and firefighters continue to put out spot blazes within the interior of the main burn area

Highway 49 between Bell Road and Dry Creek Road is now open in the southbound lanes according to a Calfire volunteer Monday morning.

Residents of the Saddleback Estates neighborhood north of Dry Creek, which had been evacuated Sunday due to heavy damage in that area, are being allowed to return through Virginia Street, according to Daniel Berlant of Calfire.

The fire is about 50 percent contained, according to Berlant, with full containment expected by Tuesday.

"There's still containment lines to be built, but the forward progress of the fire has been stopped," Berlant said.

Berlant and others were assessing damage Monday morning for residents and checking on area residents.

While the remains of their homes glowed with flames, evacuees received dinner at two area elementary schools late Sunday. Others stayed with friends.

"The conditions here are just like in Nevada County," Berlant said. "Everything is so dry, all it takes is a small spark to start a wildfire at this time. Your defensible space is crucial."

Structures reported to have burned include the former Harley-Davidson store on Locksley Lane and houses in the Parkway neighborhood just northeast of 84 Lumber, off Dry Creek Road. Neighborhoods in Christian Valley also were affected.

Firefighting departments that already had committed engines to fires in Yosemite and Southern California were stretched thinner with the North Auburn blaze Sunday.

Currently on the fire are 51 fire engines, seven air tankers, six helicopters, 10 hand crews, two bulldozers and 300 firefighters, Calfire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

The grassland fire was reported at 2:22 p.m. Sunday at Rock Creek Road off Highway 49; by 2:41 p.m. the fire had jumped Locksley Lane and Shale Ridge Road and was heading toward Dry Creek Road. At 3:13 p.m., Bell Road was closed at Highway 49 and air tankers were called in.

At 4:15 p.m., the fire was estimated at 500 acres, and voluntary evacuations were under way north of Rock Creek Road.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for Saddleback Estates and another subdivision in Christian Valley.

At 5:30 p.m. officials were evacuating the Moss Rock Road area north of Auburn Municipal Airport, as the fire continued to burn to the northeast.

At 6:30 p.m., the forward progress of the fire had been halted, but firefighters still worked to put out fires at multiple structures, Calfire spokesman Darin Nelson said.

Contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar at lkellar@theunion.com or (530) 477-4229. Contact City Editor Trina Kleist at tkleist@theunion.com or (530) 477-4230. Contact Dave Moller at dmoller@theunion.com or call 477-4237.


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The Union Updated Aug 31, 2009 06:00PM Published Aug 31, 2009 12:25AM Copyright 2009 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.