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Carriage Fire contained within 1 hour (Video)

The fire that plumed smoke near the Dew Drop Inn on Monday was contained within the hour by the Cal Fire Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit, reports state.

Per the California Highway Patrol website, a grass fire was reported near a residence at Lady Bird Lane and Highway 49 at 1:54 p.m.

One residence was burned before responding units were able to extinguish the quarter-acre Carriage Fire.

“There were four residents cleared from the structure,“ said Mary Eldridge, public information officer for the Cal Fire unit

According Eldridge, the cause of the fire is still under investigation. Firefighters will patrol the burnt region into the evening to abate any threat left still smoldering.

According to the National Weather Service, the Red Flag Warning that began Monday will remain in place until tonight. The service forecasts another high risk day to take place Thursday.

To the south in El Dorado and Amador counties, the Caldor Fire is 75% contained after burning 219,101 acres and destroying 782 structures over six weeks.

The Dixie Fire that spanned Butte, Plumas, Tehama, Shasta and Lassen counties to the north is nearing 1 million acres burned, with 963,415 acres consumed after nine weeks of activity.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com

Centenarian, World War II hero honored: Retired Lt. Cmdr. Lou Conter celebrates 100th birthday (VIDEO/PHOTO GALLERY)

Retired Lt. Cmdr. Lou Conter addresses those gathered at the Alta Sierra Country Club Sunday to celebrate his 100th birthday. Friends and family came from far and wide, including former Pearl Harbor park rangers, to spend time with him and wish him a happy birthday. Conter is one of two remaining survivors of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on the USS Arizona.
Photo: Elias Funez

Retired Lt. Cmdr. Lou Conter is known for many milestones and accomplishments in his life.

Aside from surviving the explosion of his ship, the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, Conter is known for his survival skills after being shot down twice over enemy waters, fighting off sharks in the process.

Conter also survived many missions where he helped rescue Australian allies trapped behind enemy lines during World War II.

Lou Conter was greeted with a soldier’s welcome Sunday at the Alta Sierra Country Club, where his 100th birthday was celebrated. Members of the California Highway Patrol, Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, Grass Valley Police Department, American Legion, and local Boy Scouts all gathered alongside friends and family of Conter’s during his welcome.
Photo: Elias Funez

On Sunday, Conter became known for turning 100.

Though his actual birthday was Monday, a large celebration was held Sunday at the Alta Sierra Country Club, where family and friends from far and wide showed up to honor the living legend and American hero.

A pair of North American T-6 Texan aircraft perform an aerial fly by during Conter’s 100th birthday celebration.
Photo: Elias Funez

Representatives from the California Highway Patrol, Nevada County Board of Supervisors, Grass Valley City Council, and many more all presented Conter with their appreciation.

“You’ve come a long way from splashing down surrounded by sharks, to being here surrounded by people,” Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Robin Davies said to Conter.

Grass Valley Council member Jan Arbuckle presented Conter with a key to the city.

Friend Jeff Holt surprised Conter with a photo of his wife’s ultrasound and asked Conter to be his child’s godfather.

“Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,” Conter said in front of the crowd of hundreds gathered.

During the celebration, Conter was presented with another photo, this one of him pinning his wings onto great-nephew Capt. Daniel Hower of the USMC, during a ceremony held recently.

Five-year-old Sienna Rose Pankoski sings the National Anthem to Lou Conter and the crowd for his 100th birthday celebration Sunday at the Alta Sierra Country Club.
Photo: Elias Funez

“They decided that I should give him my wings, I pinned them on him yesterday,” Conter said to the crowd.

“I received my wings November 15, 1942, and he is now a pilot and a captain in the Marine Corps and his dad, a retired colonel, and I want everybody to meet him,” Conter said as he introduced Hower.

Conter spent the rest of the celebration receiving gifts, signing autographs in his book “The Lou Conter Story,” and taking photos with his many friends and family members.

To contact Multimedia Reporter Elias Funez email efunez@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230

Retired Lt. Cmdr. Lou Conter is presented a pair of photographs of him pinning his wings on his great-nephew, Capt. Ray Hower of the USMC, during Conter’s 100th birthday celebration Sunday. Hower became a pilot last year, while Conter earned his wings in November 1942.
Photo: Elias Funez
Conter’s many friends and family at his 100th birthday party were asked to sign a large banner for him to help commemorate the day.
Photo: Elias Funez
The beginning of Lou Conter’s 100th birthday celebration started Sunday with a visit from neighbor and fellow World War II serviceman Jim Fitch in front of his home at Eskaton Village.
Photo: Elias Funez
Lou Conter gets a California Highway Patrol escort to his 100th birthday party in Alta Sierra from his home at Eskaton Village by Officer Chris West from the Grass Valley office.
Photo: Elias Funez
Lou Conter is welcomed to the Alta Sierra Country Club for his 100th birthday celebration on Sunday. Conter is a member of the club, which is open to the public, and used to be a regular golfer there.
Photo: Elias Funez
Friends and family look on as family photos are taken with Lou Center and his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren during his 100th birthday celebration Sunday at the Alta Sierra Country Club.
Photo: Elias Funez
People dig in to the catered meal prepared by the kitchen staff at Alta Sierra Country Club.
Photo: Elias Funez
Lou Conter’s 100th birthday cake.
Photo: Elias Funez
Lou Conter, who recently published the book “The Lou Conter Story,” signs a copy presented to him by one of his fans in attendance of his 100th birthday on Sunday.
Photo: Elias Funez

Miners rise above Falcons in return to Hooper Stadium (VIDEO/PHOTO GALLERY)

Nevada Union’s Cameron Cormack dices his way through the Colfax defense Friday night at Hooper Stadium. Cormack finished the night with 132 rush yards, 92 receiving yards and four total touchdowns.
Photo: Elias Funez

It was a wild one at Hooper Stadium Friday night.

In the first official home game at Nevada Union in nearly two years, the Miners and the Colfax Falcons put on a thrilling show, combining for 98 points and more than a 1,000 yards of offense in a back-and-forth battle that kept the limited crowd at Hooper on the edge of their seats.

The two foothills schools, located just 16 miles apart, traded big plays and the lead for much of the game until the Miners pulled away in the fourth quarter and earned the, 56-42, victory.

“I’m proud of our kids, and I’m even more proud of our community,” said Nevada Union head coach Brad Sparks. “For them to show up and cheer us on and do what they did tonight, and do it within the mandate from the county, I couldn’t be happier.”

Leading the charge for the Miners (2-1) was quarterback Gabe Baker, who threw for 311 yards and five touchdowns. The 6-foot, 3-inch, 240-pound senior also ran the ball 27 times for 248 yards and two touchdowns, including a 1-yard scoring plunge that put the Miners up 48-42 with just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter. He then plowed into the end zone for the two-point conversion to push the lead to 50-42. Baker scored four two-point conversions in the game.

Baker was quick to credit his offensive line for the team’s success.

“It was mainly up front,” Baker said of what made the difference in the game. “I’ve never seen our offensive line block like that before. Timber (Wilkins), I’ve never seen that many pancake (blocks) in a game before. Every play I would look over, and he was laying on top of some poor kid. He did great and so did the rest of the guys on the line.”

The Miners’ push up front was led by Wilkins, Elliot Tinnell, Roland Betito, Ryder Querequincia and Tim Steffenson.

Also benefiting from NU’s strong offensive line play was senior running back Cameron Cormack. The skilled back rushed for 132 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown scamper that put the Miners up 14 points late in the fourth quarter.

“It feels great,” Cormack said of getting the win. “I remember last year when coronavirus hit and it was my first year on varsity, and I remember being totally sad that we didn’t get a home game. But, we did this year, here at Hooper Stadium, at home, we stepped it up and played a hard game. I can’t give more of a thanks to our linemen.”

Before Friday night, the last time the Miners played an official game at home was Oct. 18, 2019, when they knocked off Foothill Valley League foe Ponderosa.

Nevada Union quarterback Gabe Baker rumbles his way through the Colfax Falcons defense during Friday’s 56-42 win. Baker rushed for 248 yards and two touchdowns. He also passed for 311 yards and five touchdowns.
Photo: Elias Funez

Cormack also shined in the passing game Friday night, catching four balls for 92 yards and three first half touchdowns.

The Miners got big games from junior receivers Drew Menet and Clay Renner as well. Menet hauled in four passes for 112 yards and scored two second half touchdowns (50-yards, 6). Renner tallied five catches for 103 yards, including a 54-yard catch and run in the fourth quarter that set the Miners up inside the five-yard line and led to Baker’s go-ahead touchdown.

“What can I say about Gabe Baker?” said Sparks. “I’m not sure how much he passed for and how much he rushed for, but I’m sure it’s a whole lot of everything. But, there were so many guys who made plays tonight.”

Nevada Union High School varsity football head coach Brad Sparks has his team off to a 2-1 start on the season after Friday night’s win over Colfax.
Photo: Elias Funez

While the Miners were able to pull out the win, the Falcons (1-2) played valiantly all night. Leading Colfax was the talented quarterback-receiver duo of Noah Souza and Luke Green. Souza threw for 300 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. Green was a force all game, grabbing nine balls for 218 yards and three touchdowns (43, 44, 67). The versatile playmaker also returned a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown.

Colfax also got strong play from senior running back Connor Vaughan, who caught a touchdown pass and ran in another score.

“That is a great football team who’s going to win games,” Sparks said of Colfax.

The Nevada Union varsity cheerleaders helped get the home team in the Miner Magic spirit Friday night at Hooper Stadium.
Photo: Elias Funez

Nevada Union’s defense gave up a lot of points, but forced five turnovers and came through when the game was on the line.

Leading the defensive charge was junior defensive back James Kinney, who finished with 13 tackles. Fellow junior defensive back Andrew Webster nabbed a pair of interceptions, including one that thwarted a deep Colfax drive. Sophomore Dustin Philpott also grabbed an interception. Senior linebacker Jedi Vculek wrapped up eight tackles. Baker followed with seven tackles, four of which were for a loss. And, Bodey Eelkema recovered a fumble to help seal the victory.

Nevada Union quarterback Gabe Baker tossed five touchdowns and ran for another two in Friday night’s win over the Colfax Falcons.
Photo: Elias Funez

VENUE UNCERTAINTY

During the days leading into Friday night’s game at Hooper Stadium there was some uncertainty surrounding where the game would be played. Due to a Aug. 25 Nevada County Public Health Department COVID-19 mandate — which states if a gathering has more than 500 people, there must be a process to verify proof of vaccine or proof of a negative test for those in attendance — the game was moved from Hooper Stadium to Colfax’s Marson Stadium on Wednesday night. By Thursday afternoon, the game was moved back to its regularly scheduled venue at NU’s Hooper Stadium, but with limited attendance.

Colfax’s Nicholas Sinel is brought down by a host of Nevada Union Miners during first half game play.
Photo: Elias Funez

JV MINERS EDGE FALCONS

Nevada Union’s junior varsity squad also pulled out the win Friday, topping their Colfax counterparts 8-6.

NU quarterback Nolan Chappell threw for 109 yards and one touchdown. Trevor Buti led the ground attack with 47 yards, and also got involved in the passing game with a touchdown catch.

The Falcons had a chance to steal the win late, but a field goal attempt with less than a minute left hit the cross bar.

The victory for the Miners improves them to 2-1 on the season.

WHAT’S NEXT

Nevada Union gets back on the road this upcoming Friday for a game in El Dorado against Union Mine. The Diamondbacks are off to a hot start this season, going 3-0, including a 42-8 victory over Amador Friday night.

The Nevada Union Varsity Miners enter Hooper Stadium through the stands before taking the field against the Colfax Falcons on Friday.
Photo: Elias Funez
STAT LEADERS

PASSING

NU: Gabe Baker – 12/32, 311 yards, 5 TDs

C: Noah Souza – 13/25, 300 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs

RUSHING

NU: Gabe Baker – 27 carries, 248 yards, 2 TDS

NU: Cameron Cormack – 22 carries, 132 yards, TD

C: Nicholas Sinel – 14 carries, 71 yards

RECEIVING

NU: Drew Menet – 4 catches, 111 yards, 2 TDs

NU: Cameron Cormack – 4 catches, 92 yards, 3 TDS

NU: Clay Renner – 5 catches, 103 yards

C: Luke Green – 9 catches, 218 yards, 3 TDs

SCORE BY QUARTER

FIRST QUARTER

NU: Cameron Cormack 23-yard pass from Gabe Baker. Kick no good. (5:44)

C: Luke Green 43-yard pass from Noah Souza. Souza kick. (1:16)

SECOND QUARTER

NU: Cormack 39-yard pass from Baker. Two-point try no good. (8:10)

C: Connor Vaughan 9-yard pass from Souza. Souza kick. (4:45)

NU: Cormack 29-yard pass from Baker. Two-point try good. (2:14)

C: Green 44-yard pass from Souza. Souza kick. (:46)

THIRD QUARTER

NU: Baker 23-yard run. Two-point try no good. (10:33)

C: Green 85-yard kickoff return. Souza kick. (10:18)

NU: Drew Menet 50-yard pass from Baker. Two-point try good. (9:24)

C: Green 67-yard pass from Souza. Kick no good. (8:33)

FOURTH QUARTER

NU: Menet 6-yard pass from Baker. Two-point try good. (11:10)

C: Vaughan 5-yard run. Two-point try good. (7:18)

NU: Baker 1-yard run. Two-point try good. (5:14)

NU: Cormack 11-yard run. Two-point try no good. (3:59)

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, email wford@theunion.com

‘A symptom of much deeper problems’: Grass Valley officers focus on issues of mental illness, drug abuse, poverty (PHOTO GALLERY/VIDEO)

Grass Valley Police Department downtown/parks Officer John Herrera, right, and Detective Dennis Grube enter a known homeless encampment inside of an abandoned building off Nevada City Highway in Grass Valley last month. Police have been working with the property owner to get the land cleared.
Photo: Elias Funez

As Grass Valley Police Officer Zach LaFerriere drove away from Hospitality House after responding to a call for service at the homeless shelter, something was clearly on his mind.

The 16-year police veteran appeared agitated, shaking his head and flashing a grimace as he drove away.

LaFerriere responds to hundreds of calls for service a year, dealing with hundreds of different faces, but for him, all too many of these faces share the same sad stories.

“The majority of my job is dealing with people who are on drugs or who are mentally ill,” LaFerriere said.

A lifelong Grass Valley resident himself, LaFerriere said that arresting the same people repeatedly is extremely demoralizing. And he’s also the first to admit that he doesn’t have the answers.

“The issues — substance abuse, mental illness, are so entrenched, often generational — how do you break that cycle?”

Grass Valley Detective Dennis Grube, center, and Detective Chris Roberds prepare the department’s drone used to find homeless encampments from the air. An infrared attachment allows officers to zone in on heat signatures that could be fires.
Photo: Elias Funez

CRIME TRENDS

Officers cover different beats, but tend to agree on the same thing: The vast majority of police time and resources in Nevada County are spent addressing issues of mental illness, drug abuse, and poverty — with most incidents involving the homeless community.

Detective Dennis Grube works in the department’s Strategic Response Unit (SRU) and plays a different role as an officer than LaFerriere, spending more of his time on often lengthy criminal investigations than responding to immediate calls for service.

Officer John Herrera, with 20 years of police experience, recently assumed a newly created and unique role in the department, serving as the Grass Valley police downtown/parks officer.

Grube estimated that around two-thirds of all Grass Valley police calls for service are transient-related. Herrera gave a much higher figure — estimating that well above 80% of his department’s calls for service are “homeless driven.”

Grube, Herrera, and LaFerriere were all quick to emphasize that many calls for service involving the homeless are wholly unfounded.

“I get a lot of calls where I have to have the same talk with people and explain to them that it’s not a crime just for someone to be homeless,” Herrera said.

Nonetheless, the police veteran said the homeless community is unquestionably the biggest focus for his department.

“I’ve really seen it grow in the last 15 years all across the U.S….the way I like to classify it is that homelessness has really become a subculture of America…I say subculture because it’s everywhere, even in the foothills of this little tiny town,” Herrera said.

GRUBE

On the several-acre property located off Gates Place, near the Spirit Empowerment Peer Center, Grube walked gingerly through the remnants of what appeared to be a recently abandoned homeless encampment in a small area well covered by a few large pine trees, far from any prying eyes. The private property, largely undeveloped and covered by brush and dense foliage, is marked with several “No Trespassing” signs, but this hadn’t deterred the former occupants of this encampment.

The sheltered area that Grube now surveyed was littered with trash: Food, bottles, grocery bags, and old cigarette packets were just a few of the items covering the ground, along with a few larger items such as discarded sleeping bags and even a badly worn out tent.

Encampments such as these are fire hazards, are often a haven for drug abuse, and pose threats to human and environmental health, so the landowner has given police permission to come onto the Gates Place property and cite or arrest trespassers.

“Believe it or not, this one actually isn’t so bad,” Grube quipped as he looked over this particular encampment. Police regularly conduct such sweeps on properties such as the plot on Gates Place, calling in city volunteer teams to clean up encampments, looking out for potential fire hazards, and arresting/citing trespassers when necessary, Grube said.

Born and raised in Grass Valley, Grube has been with Grass Valley police for close to seven years, enough time to develop familiarity with many of the homeless living out of tents and their cars on the long winding stretch of road on Gates Place.

As he made his regular rounds down the road, Grube was able to pick out most of the homeless, living out of their cars or on tents all along Gates Place, by name, with some coming out of their habitations to talk to him.

For Grube, taking someone into custody when he patrols Gates Place is the last resort. Instead, he prefers to deal with the homeless through face-to-face conversation, giving warnings when necessary, establishing relationships, and directing people toward the resources they need — housing, mental health care clinics, and addiction recovery facilities such as the Spirit Center.

“I didn’t start this job to be a bully,” Grube explained of his approach to policing. “I give people a lot of chances.

“It’s not the old-school kind of policing anymore for us, we’re not tackling criminals and slamming them into walls or whatever as much,” Grube said. “Today it’s more about learning to have some level of empathy, to try and show that you understand someone, although that can be difficult depending on what they’ve done.”

And it’s being able to develop a sense of empathy — more than it is being able to crack heads or handle a gun — that Grube said is essential to police keeping a handle on the sources of crime in this community.

Detective Chris Roberds communicates with drone operators in locating homeless encampments from the sky while he uses a specially modified side-by-side ATV to locate them from the ground. One officer estimates that up to 80% of 911 calls in Grass Valley are homeless-related.
Photo: Elias Funez

But Grube acknowledges that empathy can only go so far in preventing crime, admitting that he’s had to arrest many of the same people far more than he would like to.

”It’s dispiriting…I’ve known some of these people seven years now, and so often you just gotta take them in, you gotta do what you gotta do.“

HERRERA

When Herrera was approached near the end of 2019 by police Capt. Steve Johnson and pitched the idea for the creation of a downtown/parks officer position, he admits he initially questioned the necessity of the role.

No Trespassing signs are little deterrent to people who frequent abandoned properties and structures such as this one off the Nevada City Highway in Grass Valley.
Photo: Elias Funez

By his own admission, Herrera’s job description is odd for any police officer. He spends a good amount of his time working with city volunteers pulling weeds at Grass Valley’s DeVere Mautino Park. He’s been working with an architect to help redesign the skateboarding rink at Condon Park, and has been taking design ideas from the local teens who frequent the park. He goes around different businesses downtown on Mill Street, talking to owners about concerns they have, ranging from issues with parking spots to unruly customers.

“At first I said to Steve, ‘I really don’t know about this whole thing,’” Herrera said with a laugh as he recalled the conversation he had with Johnson over the position.

But since he took over as downtown/parks officer in January 2020, Herrera says he’s seen the unique value that the position plays in a tight-knit community such as Grass Valley.

Through everyday interactions, Herrera has formed close relationships with business and community leaders. He’s served as a key liaison for police in answering questions from the public about COVID-19 since the pandemic began. And he’s been able to meet with the organizers of groups such as Black Lives Matter and Back the Blue, forming a rapport with leaders of both organizations that Herrera said has proved crucial to allowing police to better prepare for demonstrations and prevent protests from escalating toward violence.

“Business owners here call me for anything … protest organizers call me for anything,” Herrera said as he walked down Mill Street, pointing out one store where he had recently responded to a store owner’s complaint of vandalism.

The owner told police that a group of teenagers had broken some Christmas lights hung around his building. Herrera was able to find the miscreants, admonish them for their actions, but avoid getting juvenile courts involved in a way that could have put a black mark on the teens’ futures.

Grass Valley Police Department Officer John Herrera strives to be a community liaison as the downtown/parks officer.
Photo: Elias Funez

“I use my discretion more than anybody,” he said. “I don’t want to make someone’s day worse by getting them in trouble…you have to think outside the box with this job and be flexible to take on a number of issues.”

LAFERRIERE

While LaFerriere’s job description includes putting people in cuffs when necessary, he wants people to know that his mission as a police officer is much more than that.

“A lot of what we do, what I’m about, it comes down to relationship-building,” he explained as he walked through the corridors of Silver Springs High School, largely abandoned over the summer.

During the school year, when Silver Springs’ corridors are packed with excited students rushing to classes and extracurricular events, LaFerriere serves as the high school’s resource officer, ensuring student safety, monitoring the campus for illegal and harmful activity, and most importantly, connecting with kids.

“I know 75% of their names at this point,” LaFerriere said with a smile as he walked by a classroom. “That’s the most important part of this…a lot of these kids come from really tough homes, and I’m going to make sure that this campus is safe…and let them know that I’m here for them.”

After leaving the school, LaFerriere returned to his regular patrol. He drove to Hospitality House to run background checks on applicants for admission, as the shelter seeks to screen out applicants with outstanding warrants or violent crimes on their records, keeping the facility safe.

LaFerriere parked his car and ran the names of five to 10 applicants that the shelter wanted to ensure had a clean record. Or clean enough, anyhow.

As the officer entered the names into the police record-keeping system, each one came back with numerous results of past arrests or convictions — some of the names had 20 or more results.

For most of the applicants to the shelter, their record is indicative of a pattern of “quality-of-life” crimes — offenses such as public intoxication, drug possession, and loitering/trespassing — crimes that LaFerriere acknowledged tend to be associated more with the homeless.

Like Grube, LaFerriere is quick to say that most of his job involves dealing with Grass Valley’s transient community. And he’s just as quick to share that arresting the homeless, many of whom he considers friends, is possibly the least favorite part of his job.

LaFerriere grimaced and shook his head as he reflected on the topic of homelessness.

Officer John Herrera and Detective Dennis Grube check on a known homeless encampment in an abandoned building in Grass Valley’s Glenbrook Basin.
Photo: Elias Funez

“Homelessness is a symptom of much deeper problems,” LaFerriere said. “It could be drugs, or mental illness, or often it’s someone who is a veteran and out of luck, and you’re commonly dealing with people who have experienced deep, deep trauma.”

The officer stopped on his drive from the homeless shelter to chat with an elderly man living out of his car who LaFerriere said has had his share of run-ins with the police department, mostly involving arrests for drug use. To his surprise and joy, LaFerriere found that the older man has quit using drugs and now holds a steady job at a local convenience store.

There was no disguising the good mood on LaFerriere’s face as he drove away after the conversation ended.

“That’s just awesome,” he said, beaming from ear to ear. “For him to hold down a job like that…that’s just so important. I’m so proud of him.”

Stephen Wyer is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at swyer@theunion.com

‘State of limbo’: One evacuee worried about state of tourism, jobs in wake of Caldor Fire (Video)

Single-tree torching off Highway 50, near Chiapa Drive southwest of Meyers, results in more spot fires that continued to push their way east toward Heavenly Ski Resort Tuesday as the Caldor Fire caused evacuations and threatened nearby structures.
Photo: Elias Funez

Update Thursday 7:20 a.m.:

Caldor Briefing from Cal Fire: https://youtu.be/E21PY2usmPE

The fire has burned 210,259 acres and is now 25% contained as of Thursday morning, Cal Fire said. Cal Fire expects full containment by Sept. 13.

Initially Posted:

Guiliano Quaretti-Lee is one of over 20,000 residents of South Lake Tahoe displaced by the Caldor Fire.

Quaretti-Lee packed essentials Monday after clocking out at 11 a.m. at South Side Auto Body, where he technically still works as a mechanic. The plan was to head to Grass Valley, Quaretti-Lee said, but the fire’s threat blocked routes headed west. Instead, Quaretti-Lee took Highway 50 north to Carson City while his boss opted south, toward the Gardnerville-Topaz area.

“Because the fire came out of Echo Lake, Emerald Bay was evacuated and they weren’t letting people out that way,” Quaretti-Lee said.

He was fortunate to find refuge in an actual home for the last two nights, and opted out of picking up toiletries at the Carson City Community Center-turned-shelter across the street from his friend’s house after witnessing new volunteers navigate extreme need.

Quaretti-Lee said he has been trying to stay away from the news, given how helpless updates of the Caldor Fire’s destruction make him feel, but remains deeply concerned for all members of his community — from employers and employees to homeowners and transients.

He referenced the large number of posts on community Facebook groups offering support to evacuees by way of lending cars, offering rooms and sharing resources.

“I saw a good number of our outdoor community grabbing all their stuff and heading to Stateline — on foot,” Quaretti-Lee said. “There are good number of people in Tahoe without reliable vehicles.”

Quaretti-Lee highlighted Safe Taxi’s post offering to pick people up at Stateline.

A strike team approaches their engines after being dispatched to the Caldor Fire, near Meyers, on Tuesday. Resources from across the state, including Southern California, have arrived in the South Lake Tahoe region.
Photo: Elias Funez

LIVING IN LIMBO

While grateful for his friends’ physical safety, Quaretti-Lee said it is hard for him to imagine their financial well-being.

“It’s really stressful,” Quaretti-Lee said. “Half of our town is still struggling from the last year. The small restaurants who avoided closure — it’s been two hard summers and now they’re just completely displaced.”

Quaretti-Lee said the fire’s short- and long-term consequences are becoming clearer — and more painful — as visibility over Vail’s Heavenly Resort wanes.

“The fire is headed right to Heavenly,” Quaretti-Lee said. “Heavenly is on Stateline. If it hits Heavenly, they can’t open the mountain. If there’s no mountain, you have casinos, but all the resort hotels, ski lodges, even Airbnbs (are going to suffer).”

South Lake Tahoe’s tourism industry has already taken a hit, but its survival is contingent on the success — at minimum, the existence — of nearby resorts.

“A lot of our friends work at Sierra(-at-Tahoe),” Quaretti-Lee said. “Are any of their chairs even viable? Do they need to replace all that equipment before it can be run? If there is no ski resort, there’s no more winter tourism.”

As an avid skier himself, Quaretti-Lee said many of his friends choose to work at resorts because they are dedicated to a life spent outdoors.

“A lot of people move to Tahoe to be on mountain,” Quaretti-Lee explained, adding that the potential loss — of home and livelihood — is immeasurable. “If Kirkwood burns down, where do they go? We’re all in this state of limbo to see if the town ever does burn down.”

Quaretti-Lee said he personally qualifies for wage-loss protection, an assurance the former Floridian is new to, despite enduring a number of hurricanes in the South.

“My boss said there’s a lot of protection for us,” Quaretti-Lee said. “He left me feeling like it was going to be all right.”

Quaretti-Lee said he did not pay rent for the month of September, but he knows his landlord will still have to pay her mortgage.

“I said, ‘Hey, we will figure this out later. Right now, I need the cash in my account to survive,” Quaretti-Lee said.

A sign left by evacuees off Highway 89 in the Christmas Valley warns potential looters of their fate should someone decide to take advantage of the mandatory evacuations put in place due to the Caldor Fire. Law enforcement officials continue their constant patrols of the South Lake Tahoe communities during evacuations.
Photo: Elias Funez

20% CONTAINED

The Caldor Fire is 20% contained after 18 days. Authorities began to repopulate the Camino area, on the west end of El Dorado County, on Wednesday, said a Cal Fire official during an update Wednesday afternoon. Toward Nevada, successive Cal Fire maps indicate the red fire boundary — indicating lack of control — extending further on the northeastern front past Trout Creek toward Cold Creek.

Cal Fire is prioritizing efforts in “Division K” of the fire, between Highway 50 and the California-Nevada boundary. Seven hundred twenty-nine structures have been destroyed over the course of the fire, but Cal Fire officials said firefighters have successfully protected residences there that are close to the fire’s edge, above and below Pioneer Trail.

The plan — if the fire is not contained at its current boundary line — is to direct the eastward flames south to the land under Heavenly Ski Resort.

Floating embers persevered and flames jumped across Highway 88, 89 and 50, testing Cal Fire’s contingency plans and endurance.

During the Caldor Fire’s morning update Wednesday, safety officer Jamal Cook encouraged first responders to be mindful of fatigue.

“We all know how we have a long grind ahead of us, and we can’t stress enough how important it is to pace ourselves,” Cook said.

Cal Fire assigned 26 helicopters, 490 engines, 96 dozers, 77 water tenders and 4,224 personnel Wednesday to mitigate the fire’s expansion — currently at 207,931 acres — in calamitous conditions.

Wind gusts fan the flames of the Caldor Fire as it makes its way back up Echo Summit Tuesday morning after spotting into the Christmas Valley on Monday. Firefighters have kept structures from burning in the South Lake Tahoe basin.
Photo: Elias Funez

HOSTILE CLIMATE AND TOPOGRAPHY

Fire Behavior Analyst Steve Volmer said fire-weakened timber continues to fall across power lines, roads and escape routes. Deep stump holes and corresponding deep-seated heat will continue to ignite spot fires in areas that appear, superficially, under control.

”There’s a lot of factors that are driving this fire,” Volmer said. “All (this) erratic behavior will still be in play for the next couple of weeks.”

Combined with arid climate and gusty winds, the rugged and steep terrain that draw tourists to the Tahoe basin pose serious access challenges to first responders on scene. Incident meteorologist Jim Dudley said Wednesday the area will see some terrain-driven winds, but significantly less than the the first half of the week.

A Los Angeles County firefighter uses a hose to douse the flames of the Caldor Fire as they approach Highway 89 in the Christmas Valley Tuesday afternoon.
Photo: Elias Funez

“Friday is a light wind day across the fire,” Dudley said.

According to Cook, the Caldor Fire contains all five of the characteristics identified in fatal fires, referred to in the industry as “tragedy fires.”

“There are five common denominators in tragedy fires,” Cook said. “Every single one of those can be related to this incident here.”

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union, a sister publication of the Tahoe Daily Tribune and Sierra Sun. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com

According to the National Wildfire Coordinating group’s Incident Response Pocket Guide

such fires often occur –

1. On relatively small fires or deceptively quiet areas of large fires.

2. In relatively light fuels, such as grass, herbs, and light brush.

3. When there is an unexpected shift in wind direction or in wind speed.

4. When fire responds to topographic conditions and runs uphill.

5. Critical burn period between 2 and 5 p.m.

‘We just don’t know what could happen’: Firefighters, community brace for ‘bad weather’ day (VIDEO, PHOTO GALLERY)

Firefighters provide structure protection off South Upper Truckee Road Monday evening in the Christmas Valley area of the South Lake Tahoe Basin as the Caldor Fire approaches.
Photo: Elias Funez

Update Wednesday 7:30 a.m.:

Watch a live briefing from Cal Fire here: https://youtu.be/xSQjaMypSmo

The fire grew to 204,390 acres overnight and is 20% containted.

Initially Posted:

Retired firefighter Joey Anderson, who served for 30 years, stayed at his home on Apache Avenue in the community of Meyers as the Caldor Fire pushed its way over the Echo Summit on Tuesday.

“It’s so hard leaving, we raised eight kids here,” Anderson said as garden sprinklers doused his home and the area around it.

A fire chief had come by to check on him, asking how he was holding up. After telling the chief that he was OK, Anderson burst into tears.

“Even in my life’s work, it’s different when it’s close to home,” Anderson said.

Retired firefighter Joey Anderson asks for a photo to be taken of him and his dog Echo Tuesday in front of his Meyers home that he raised eight children out of. He hopes that it won’t be the last image of his home as Anderson contemplates evacuating as the Caldor Fire approaches.
Photo: Elias Funez

A group of Tahoe National Forest firefighters were wrapping up a firing operation behind his home as the flames from the Caldor Fire approached.

“I’m feeling pretty good with this line cut around the house,” Anderson said. “Of course, with the winds we just don’t know what could happen.”

Anderson owns a cabin on Echo Summit, where Monday’s fire activity was spotting and erratic, though he thinks it survived the fire so far.

Burning vegetation lights up the night sky east of Highway 89 in the Lake Tahoe Basin after the Caldor Fire spotted into the Christmas Valley Monday.
Photo: Elias Funez

“The hardest thing about leaving is knowing I can’t get back here,” Anderson said while the thought of evacuating still weighed heavy on his mind.

A BIRD’S EYE VIEW

Spot fires, seen igniting as far as one mile from the Caldor Fire’s edge, pushed past three major roadways — now firelines — on Monday. South Lake Tahoe residents’ fears were realized after the inferno breached the Tahoe Basin Monday morning, but destruction continued east.

First responders continued in shifts and tours to extinguish flames on either side of both Highway 88, near the American River’s Silver Fork, and Highway 89, close to the fire’s first major leap across Highway 50’s Echo Pass.

After announcing the updated acreage burned on Tuesday — 191,607, or 300 square miles — Cal Fire’s Operations Chief Tim Earnst said firefighters have gained some control along the Caldor Fire’s western boundary, around the inferno’s inception at Grizzly Flats.

Earnst said crews responsible for mopping up the northwestern area are diligently attending to spot fires as they crop up, given the ample fuel source of thick brush in Sly Park. Ice House Road was an area of particular concern going into Tuesday evening.

A trio of Tahoe National Forest firefighters use chainsaws to remove ladder fuels from vegetation surrounding homes in the Christmas Valley of the Tahoe Basin Monday evening.
Photo: Elias Funez

SMALL VICTORY

Earnst said Cal Fire changes the color of the fire’s boundary on its fire map from red to black as control is established.

The color change is a small victory, still worth celebrating, Earnst explained, given that first responders were up against winds blowing between 30 and 40 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph, Monday night.

“We had fire brands spotting a mile ahead of the fire,” Earnst said, referring to the heightened risk of floating embers in windy conditions. “That’s extremely challenging for firefighters to deal with.”

Fire Behavior Analyst Stephen Volmer said on Tuesday the long distance embers are traveling over the course of this fire are caused by a crown fire run, which burns forests’ canopies.

“(The flames) created an active crown fire run, when the fire actually goes from tree top to tree top, that is what’s propagating the spread of the fire right now — the long range ember cast,” Volmer said. “The rates of spread can go up to at least 200 feet per minute.”

Volmer said parts of the region have not burned since before 1940.

North Tahoe firefighters work to clear ladder fuels ahead of the front of the Caldor Fire Tuesday morning off South Upper Truckee Road.
Photo: Elias Funez

Earnst said the forefront of the battle remains the Echo Pass area, although Cal Fire is creating a backup plan. The uncontained line along the fire’s northern perimeter is well above Highway 50, Earnst said, and dozers are working to establish a fire line well above that.

“We’re looking at contingency lines well above the highway, just in case the wind carries embers further away,” Earnst said.

“The head of the fire has not made it to Kirkwood yet,“ said a Cal Fire operations chief during a community meeting Tuesday evening. “We can’t control it, we don’t have tools out there, so we resort to herding the fire away from people and structures.”

The official said first responders need to be in a safe position to launch an offensive attack involving dozers and the establishment of fire lines. “Extreme fire behavior” prevented competent fire fighters from doing their job.

The Cal Fire officer said as flames flicker to the west of Kirkwood, first responders organized a defense group made up of 20 engines within the Vail ski resort.

In an earlier press conference, Cal Fire officials said contrary to concerns, firefighters are actually trying to direct Caldor’s uncontrollable flames toward the Tamarack Fire, where the fuel sources are getting used up.

The night sky glows above the South Lake Tahoe community of Meyers as a Tahoe National Forest hand crew returns to their engines after providing initial structure protection off South Upper Truckee Road Monday evening due to the Caldor Fire.
Photo: Elias Funez

ROUGH DAY

Incident meteorologist Jim Dudley said Wednesday looks rough from a climate perspective.

With relative humidity values as low as 8%, even down toward the lake, Dudley said the excess of dry air and wind call for a red flag warning extension to 11 p.m. Wednesday.

Dudley said wind is forecast to lessen some Wednesday, but remain gusty.

“(Wednesday) will be another bad weather day, but it will be the last of those, I promise you,” Dudley said.

The National Weather Service in Reno, Salt Lake and Sacramento all agree, Dudley said, that the winds will lighten up considerably.

“That will make for a better situation here on the fire footprint,” Dudley said. “We’ve got to get through (Tuesday night) and (Wednesday).”

Trees torch as wind gusts fan the flames of the Caldor Fire Monday evening after the fire jumped Highway 89, moving toward the South Lake Tahoe communities.
Photo: Elias Funez

Earnst said Cal Fire’s priority is to keep the fire from moving southeast.

After 17 days of activity and 20,000 people evacuated, Caldor Fire is 16% controlled.

According to Caltrans’ wesbite, Highway 50 remains closed from Pollock Pines to a half-mile west of South Lake Tahoe at Airport Road. Highway 88 is closed from Peddler Hill in Amador County to the north junction of Highway 89 in Alpine County.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com

Multimedia Reporter Elias Funez contributed to this report

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Income Support (CalFresh, Medi-Cal, General Assistance and CalWORKs)

Placerville: 530-642-7300

South Lake Tahoe: 530-573-3200

Point of Contact:

Karen Thomas: Karen.Thomas@edcgov.us or 530-621-7421

Those who want to vote in California’s Sept. 14 gubernatorial recall election should email their name, original address, forwarding address, date of birth and the name of the election they would like their new ballot to be sent to: vbm@edcgov.us

 

‘This is just a monster’: Caldor Fire approaches South Lake Tahoe

 

Update Tuesday 7:45 a.m.:

The Caldor Fire has burned 191,607 acres and is 16% contained as of Tuesday morning, Cal Fire said.

Initially Posted:

After burning 177,260 acres in two weeks, the Caldor Fire breached Echo Pass along the Highway 50 corridor in South Lake Tahoe Monday afternoon.

Two counties over, Grass Valley’s air quality continues to cycle between “hazardous” to “dangerous for sensitive groups” between low-pressure mornings and high-pressure afternoons. The region’s skies first filled with smog this fire season because of the Dixie Fire, which began 90 miles to the north almost 50 days ago.

Aside from regular precautions that should be issued in diminished air quality — increased hydration and reduced outdoor activity — Cal Fire Public Information Officer Mary Eldridge said Nevada County residents ought to be mindful of some 20,000 evacuees hitting the road this week from El Dorado County. The entirety of South Lake Tahoe is under evacuation orders because of the Caldor Fire, according to a Cal Fire update provided Monday morning.

Firefighters wrap up control of a small spot fire off Highway 50, below Echo Summit.
Elias Funez

“People are leaving (around Highway) 50,” Eldridge said. “They are either going to Reno or they are going to come down and around. Those of us in Nevada County need to be prepared for more people as well as a lot of fire resources coming from above and below.”

 

Eldridge said she suspects Highway 49 will be impacted by heavy traffic as well.

 

Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter described the Caldor Fire as a “real tough one” after reporting the flames’ 20,000-acre advance Sunday night.

“It’s burning heavy timber on the Highway 50 corridor between South Lake and Sacramento on difficult terrain and conditions to fight fire,” Porter said.

Firefighters stage along Highway 50, southwest of Myers.
Elias Funez

As of Monday morning, the Caldor Fire was 14% contained.

The Caldor and Dixie fires are the only two fires recorded in California history to span the Sierra from east to west.

“We haven’t had fires burn from one side of the Sierra to the other,” Thom Porter, head of Cal Fire, said in a Monday afternoon update from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. “We did with Dixie, and now we do with the Caldor — we need to be cognizant that there is fire activity happening (here) that we have never seen before.”

A spot fire from the Caldor Fire begins to establish itself off Highway 50 below the Echo Summit Monday afternoon.
Elias Funez

ESCAPE

Leelee Gilbert and her son Tadi Wright escaped the basin at about 1:30 a.m. Monday and set up camp at the shelter in Gardnerville.

“We used to live on Black Bart, I guess we’ll find out pretty soon if we still do,” Gilbert said.

The family brought their three dogs and cat, and a newborn baby, and have set up multiple tents in the dirt area just off the shelter’s parking lot.

“We’re not going to make our pets go into a shelter,” Gilbert said. “They are already nervous and there’s no way we can do that to them.”

A store closes for business on Monday after making final sales for the day before evacuating from South Lake Tahoe.
Elias Funez

Gilbert has lived in South Lake Tahoe since 1991 and has been through her share of fires, including the Angora Fire in 2007, but she says the Caldor Fire is different.

“This is just a monster,” she said. “The Angora Fire was local and it was scary because our neighbors’ homes were getting annihilated, but you always had this feeling they were going to get it. You knew they had a grip. But this fire, it’s a mega fire, once they’re at 100,000 acres, I don’t know what they can do.”

The shelter is filling up and the volunteers there are scrambling. One official said they are feeling overwhelmed and understaffed.

“It’s chaos here, we don’t have enough people to help with everybody’s needs,” the official said.

THE FIRE FACTOR

Sam Goodspeed, Nevada City/Grass Valley Fire Department chief, said the steep topography and density of South Lake Tahoe’s wooded areas are two of a few key differences between the Caldor Fire and the recent River and Bennett fires in Nevada County.

“The steeper it is, the faster it will carry the fire,” Goodspeed said. “Fire likes to rise (and Tahoe’s) got these steep hillsides, which means rapid fire growth and long-distance spotting.”

Porter and Eldridge said spot fires can start in any direction, given fire’s propensity to burn upward, floating embers and rolling debris.

“It’s the Sierra Nevada — you have high peaks and deep gorges,” Eldridge said. “You have a tree, it’s burning for a week now, it breaks and rolls down, that can start many spot fires rolling down the hill. We call this ‘difficult terrain.’”

Smoke from the Caldor Fire shrouds the setting sun in South Lake Tahoe on Monday.
Elias Funez

Porter said he is proud of his team’s progress on the fire’s western front, where part of Grizzly Flat burned, but said the eastern edge is not easy to navigate.

“The east side of the fire has difficult road conditions and is burning heavy timber,” Porter said. “We’ve been making headway — at times.”

Goodspeed said along with pre-existing accessibility issues, first responders must deal with weather via wind speed and direction, as well as fuel source flammability.

“Right now they’re anticipating gusting winds which, again, is going to propel the fire forward,” Goodspeed said.

Goodspeed said first responders can take a more assertive stand in the more densely populated areas because there is more access.

The flip side of fighting fire closer to the roadside is the flammability of Tahoe cabins.

“It’s quite a bit older construction,“ Goodspeed said. ”It’s cedar shake roofs and shingles, so once you get these older cabins involved that becomes your significant fuel source.“

Porter said a phenomena known as atmospheric inversion, wherein the temperature increases with altitude instead of decreasing, “put a lid on fire activity.” The benefits are temporary, Porter said, so each time the air clears it looks like a plume of steam shot out from a kettle.

“It sucks in oxygen from all directions, and puts spot fires in all directions,” Porter said.

Smoke from the Caldor Fire settles over the casino region of South Lake Tahoe as people evacuate the area Monday.
Elias Funez

Goodspeed said he is grateful for the lookout points manned at various locations throughout Nevada County. Aside from being in a physical position to identify smoke early on, Goodspeed said the assortment of districts and agencies in the area fortify the collective response to fires as they crop up.

Goodspeed said the federal and state governments are making the Caldor Fire a priority because of Tahoe’s beauty, population and wealth.

According to Eldridge, the National Guard deployed ground crews to provide fuel breaks to firefighters and prevent the loss of life in the Tahoe area.

“I think (Tahoe is) one of the crown jewels of the state of California, as far as recreation and the beauty of the lake,” Goodspeed said. “There are populous areas around the lake, a lot of high dollar value and potential loss.”

RED FLAG FORECAST

The National Weather Service extended its red flag warning, affecting Grass Valley, Nevada City and Colfax, until 11 p.m. Tuesday. The warning is a full 24 hours longer at higher elevations near White Cloud Campground, Truckee and Emigrant Camp.

Meteorologist Eric Kurth said Tuesday’s winds along the ridge are expected to peak between 30 and 35 miles per hour. Wednesday’s breeze will top out between 20 and 25 miles per hour.

“The gusts, coupled with low humidity, cause enough concern to keep the red flag in the area,” Kurth said. “We’re expecting critical fire weather conditions. A combination of lower humidity and dry fuels could contribute extreme fire behavior.”

Kurth said some moisture from the coastline may make it to Lake Tahoe by Thursday, which will help fine fuels like grass or pine needles retain some moisture.

“We’re starting to get better (humidity) recovery in the (Central) Valley here from some marine influence,” Kurth explained. “It’s gonna take some time for that moisture to get up into that area.”

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com

The Tahoe Daily Tribune contributed to this report

THREE DAY FORECAST

Grass Valley

Tuesday: 86/63 degrees

Wednesday: 81/57 degrees

Thursday: 81/55 degrees

Truckee

Tuesday: 79/48 degrees

Wednesday: 76/43 degrees

Thursday: 74/40 degrees

More details emerge in 2 homicides (VIDEO)

Authorities have identified a man as a person of interest in one Nevada City homicide, and have also released the name of a victim in an unrelated homicide investigation.

Zachery Isaiah Minissale, 34, from Nevada City, has been identified as a person of interest in the alleged homicide of Jessic Clayton Robiere, 30, a United Kingdom man who was living around Nevada County at the time of his death. Minissale was named in a press release put out Monday evening by the Eureka County Sheriff’s Office in Nevada.

Minissale died last week in a shootout with deputies, Eureka County has said.

Viewer discretion advised for the following video:

Also on Monday, authorities identified Raul Iturralde, 43, from Nevada City as the alleged victim in a separate homicide case. Russell Harvey Rippetoe, 57, has been formally charged with murder in connection with Iturralde’s death, after being arrested at a Nevada City address last week on suspicion of homicide.

JESSIC ROBIERE

Last Wednesday, Minissale was killed in a shootout by Eureka County sheriff’s deputies after he had allegedly shot and wounded a Nevada public transportation worker earlier that day, in what authorities believe was a random act of violence. That same day, authorities in Nevada County found Robiere dead from multiple gunshot wounds in Minissale’s Nevada City residence on Bodie Ridge Road.

Robiere appeared to have been dead for less than 48 hours when he was found by deputies last Wednesday, according to sheriff’s Lt. Sean Scales.

While the Sheriff’s Office declined to state what weapon was used to kill Robiere, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation, Minissale had a Smith & Wesson .45-caliber revolver on his person when he was killed by deputies, according to Eureka County authorities.

Authorities have established that Minissale and Robiere knew each other. However, the extent of their relationship is unclear, and there is no information yet as to a possible motive Minissale may have had for the alleged homicide.

Robiere, who had a listed address in Truckee at the time of his death, may have been “couch surfing” at different residences in Nevada City, including Minissale’s home, though this has not been confirmed, Scales said. Minissale actively lived at the Bodie Ridge Road residence, and there is no evidence to indicate that he rented the home out regularly, Scales added.

BODY CAM FOOTAGE

Body camera footage released Monday shows Eureka County deputies exchanging deadly gunfire with Minissale for over a minute before the suspect was killed. The confrontation occurred after officers had engaged in a vehicle pursuit of the suspect, which ended after one of the pursuing deputies was able to use tire deflation spikes to disable Minissale’s vehicle, a white Ram cargo van.

In the video footage, Minissale’s van can be seen coming to a halt, and Eureka County deputies are heard calling on the suspect to surrender. Instead, Minissale opened fire on the officers, resulting in a minute-long exchange of gunfire that ended when Minissale was apparently struck twice by bullets fired by Undersheriff Tyler Thomas, according to Eureka County Sheriff Jesse Watts.

Medical aid was provided to the suspect, but he was pronounced dead about an hour after the shooting ended, Watts said.

Eureka County deputies originally initiated a pursuit of Minissale shortly after 10 a.m. June 16 after Minissale reportedly shot and wounded a Nevada Department of Transportation employee in a construction zone on Highway 278. The employee, identified only as a male adult, was hit by bullets in the right chest area and near his ear, but survived, and was later reportedly in stable condition. Watts said Tuesday that the employee has since been released from the hospital.

Minissale apparently shot the worker after the employee attempted to stop him from driving through an active work zone on Highway 278, but Watts described the suspect’s actions as “random,” saying that there appeared to be no obvious motive for the shooting.

No Eureka County deputies were wounded during the firefight with Minissale, and the deputy who shot the suspect, Thomas, has since been placed on administrative leave, per the department’s protocol in investigating all officer-involved shootings, Watts said.

RAUL ITURRALDE

On Monday, Rippetoe was formally charged with first-degree murder in the death of Iturralde, per documents filed by the Nevada County District Attorney’s Office.

Rippetoe was originally arrested for homicide on Thursday at his address on the 26000 block of North Bloomfield Road, where he lives in his trailer.

At the time of his death, Iturralde also lived on the same property on North Bloomfield Road as Rippetoe, and the men apparently both worked at an illegal marijuana growing operation on the property, according to Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh. Iturralde had just recently moved to the Nevada City address from Texas, Walsh added.

Local law enforcement originally received a tip last week from an unknown source, indicating that Rippetoe had killed Iturralde after an argument between the two men had escalated. The homicide apparently took place on or around June 12, according to prosecutors.

It appears as though Iturralde and Rippetoe became acquainted through working together at the marijuana grow at the North Bloomfield Road property, and there is no other information available yet as to their relationship, Walsh said.

While no body was originally located when Rippetoe was arrested Thursday, investigators who searched the area around Rippetoe’s trailer were able to locate the body of a deceased male adult just two days later.

The located remains, which appeared to have been buried recently, have not yet been identified as those of Iturralde, although there is some evidence they are his, according to sheriff’s Lt. Sean Scales. It could be days or even weeks before the deceased male is identified, as an autopsy of the body is still in progress, Scales said.

Rippetoe appeared at the Nevada County courthouse Monday for an arraignment, and is scheduled to next appear in court on July 1 to enter a plea, records show.

Stephen Wyer is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at swyer@theunion

Man arrested in connection with Nevada City fire

Firefighters work to save the Broad Street Professional Building at 416 Broad St. in Nevada City after the complete loss of a neighboring vacant structure Wednesday morning. The second structure was saved with only minimal damage to the second story unit.
Elias Funez

Last August, as nearly 4,000 residents were being evacuated from the Jones Fire, Michael Kent went before the Nevada City Planning Commission hoping to build his dream home.

Kent, a prospective owner of the historic property at 414 Broad St., was ultimately denied a permit to demolish and rebuild the home built in 1880.

“The danger of this building either collapsing or inadvertently being caught on fire and causing a major issue in the downtown area — it’s real,“ Kent told the commission after a 3-to-zero vote to deny the request.

“I believe it will end in some type of tragedy if that property is not somehow demolished and rebuilt and taken care of, because it is in very bad and dangerous conditions.”

On Wednesday morning, his fears came to fruition as the building broke out in flames, leaving the structure a complete loss and damaging an adjacent building at 416 Broad St.

Flames escape out the top of the building at 416 Broad St. after Wednesday morning’s structure fire in downtown Nevada City.
Elias Funez

Nevada City police that day arrested Nathan Daniel Tomlinson, 32, on charges of arson, burglary and trespassing, authorities said.

Tomlinson was found in a North Pine Street business, and linked to the fire after a review of witness statements about the blaze, Sgt. Sean Mason said.

“We have reason to believe he was involved in that as well,” he added.

FIRE

Firefighters responded around 10:30 a.m. to the Broad Street blaze, finding the vacant residence about 75% involved, said Grass Valley/Nevada City Fire Chief Sam Goodspeed.

Firefighters had a good, initial attack, though a commercial building was close and also caught fire. They extinguished the fire in the second building after several hours. Both fires were completely doused by that afternoon, he added.

The integrity of the second building is good, Goodspeed said, adding that it faced mostly smoke and water damage.

According to a Nevada City press release, fire crews used seven hydrants which impacted the water distribution system, causing brown or dirty water for some residents.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

NO SURPRISE

According to owner Kristine Lane, after repeatedly warning the city about the danger, the fire was no surprise.

Lane said city officials have been on notice about the nuisance problems on the property, including people breaking in and starting warming fires, for years. She said the Nevada City Police Department was even given a key to help them mitigate those issues.

“The city has known, the cops have known. It’s not a shock,” she said. “This is just it’s a long time coming for this house. The city and the police department, quite frankly, have known and this was preventable.”

Nevada City Police Chief Chad Ellis could not immediately be reached for comment.

Firefighters rush to refill breathing tanks after working the inside of Wednesday’s structure fire on Broad Street.
Elias Funez

According to Lane, since purchasing the property in 2018, three potential buyers have been turned away due to restrictions on demolishing and rebuilding the property.

During the August meeting, city staff recommended the commission find either the building did not hold special historical interest, or that the structure was so dilapidated it could not be reasonably repaired.

Instead, the commission agreed the building should be renovated, but not demolished.

According to Planning Commission Chair Peter Van Zant, the potential fire danger presented by the property was a city issue — not one for the Planning Commission.

“We’re the Planning Commission, we do planning and we deal with applications,” Van Zant said. “They made an application to replace that building with another building, the historical district regulations say that you attempt to restore a building.”

Kent told the commission that proposition was unlikely, with estimates for renovations without adding square footage to the structure at nearly $1,000 per square foot.

“I really do believe that the city Planning Commission was fully aware of the risks and they they just turned their head to it,” Kent said. “The whole town was put in jeopardy because there’s a small group of people in the Planning Commission who believe they know better than anybody else.”

Smoke engulfs firefighters as they work to extinguish the flames of a vacant building on Broad Street Wednesday morning.
Elias Funez

At the meeting, Nevada City engineer Bill Falconi said that while buildings in the historic district have been demolished before, one of this “magnitude” was unprecedented due to it being one of the last examples of a residence in the district.

While the commission insisted a renovation alone would be feasible, a letter from registered engineer John Payne of Del Valle consulting determined the structure had no foundation, the roof had began to fall, and the perimeter was “single wall” construction, providing no lateral protection from wind and seismic events.

“It is our opinion that the building is so damaged from the elements and time that it is unusable and cannot reasonably be repaired or restored,” the letter read.

Van Zant said he understands where the owner is coming from, it simply was not an issue for the commission.

“We don’t deal with fire issues. We don’t deal with safety issues. We don’t deal with homeless issues at Planning Commission,” he said. “We deal with applications and architectural review.”

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

Submitted by Victoria Nunnink
Nathan Daniel Tomlinson

Authorities respond to cluster of profane graffiti in Grass Valley (video)

Authorities were dispatched around 7 a.m. Wednesday in response to reports of graffiti in Grass Valley.

As of Wednesday afternoon, according to Grass Valley Police Sgt. Clint Bates, authorities had confirmed two churches, Mount St. Mary’s Academy, a private residence, and a vehicle were vandalized with “anti-Semitic and profane language.”

Bates did not name the churches, but said one was located on Chapel Street and the other on South Church Street. He said all of the confirmed graffiti locations were within a small area near those two streets and Condon Park.

A follow-up investigation regarding the vandalism was underway. Bates said that while authorities have not yet confirmed how many people were involved, the “consistent“ nature of the graffiti immediately made it clear that the same person or group of people were responsible for the multiple instances.

“The kids were pretty upset this morning when they came on campus and saw all the graffiti,” said Edee Wood, principal of Mount St. Mary’s Academy. “We just wanted to reassure the students that everything was OK, and that we would take care of it, but they were pretty upset by what they saw.”

Wood described the graffiti, which affected both the school and associated church, as containing both racist and generally profane symbols and language, including swastikas, the number “666,” and “pictures of private parts.“

She said the school has been affected by graffiti before, but that this time was particularly widespread throughout their campus.

Security camera footage shows that more than one person was involved in the vandalism, and places them at the campus around 1 a.m., according to Wood. The school was in the process of transferring that footage to authorities as of Wednesday afternoon.

Wood said that while the vandalism was disheartening, she is thankful for community support following the incident.

She said that, amid the rain and snow, a roofing crew from MEC Builds, as well as a separate family equipped with a power washer, came in the morning to help clean the graffiti.

“We feel supported in people trying to help us get it all cleaned up,” said Wood.

Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at vpenate@theunion.com.