‘Early in the season’: Bennett Fire burns over 60 acres, forces thousands of evacuations in Grass Valley (VIDEO/PHOTO GALLERY) | TheUnion.com

‘Early in the season’: Bennett Fire burns over 60 acres, forces thousands of evacuations in Grass Valley (VIDEO/PHOTO GALLERY)

Bennett Fire burns over 60 acres, forces thousands of evacuations in Grass Valley

Trees and vegetation burn while a Cal Fire captain works near the intersection of Whispering Pines Lane and Centennial Drive following the start of Wednesday afternoon’s Bennett Fire, which originated near East Bennett Road and Lava Rock Avenue.
Photo: Elias Funez

A Wednesday afternoon fire near East Bennett Road and Lava Rock Avenue forced evacuations across Grass Valley, with around 7,000 residents affected by evacuation orders and warnings caused by the fire, which had burned 64 acres and was 60% contained as of 6 p.m., authorities said.

Residents were under mandatory evacuation orders in zones ranging from Brunswick Road off Highway 49 in the north to the intersection of Brunswick and Bennett roads further south, according to Cal Fire. All of Crown Point Circle and some neighborhoods near Highway 174 in the south were also evacuated.

Vehicles burn and explode in a burst of flames as Wednesday’s Bennett Fire consumed vegetation and caused some structure damage as well.
Photo: Elias Funez

To the east, residents in zones covering areas near Bubbling Wells Road and the Nevada County Airport were not yet ordered to evacuate but were placed under evacuation warnings, as of 5 p.m., and residents near the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital on Glasson Way were given shelter-in-place advisories. Authorities urged all residents in Grass Valley to monitor evacuation updates at the county’s Community Zone Haven website.

Some sections of Highway 20 near Grass Valley, both westbound and eastbound, were temporarily closed due to the Bennett Fire, with the off-ramps to Brunswick, Idaho Maryland, and Dorsey Drive exits all closed, according to Grass Valley Fire Department Chief Sam Goodspeed.

Around 7,330 Grass Valley residents had been affected by mandatory evacuations, evacuation warnings or shelter-in-place advisories by 6 p.m., according to the Nevada County Office of Emergency Services. An unspecified number of vehicles had been confirmed destroyed by the fire, Goodspeed said. Some buildings also were burned, though the extent was unknown.

Andrew Trygg, public information officer with the Sheriff’s Office, said about 6:30 p.m. that people might be able to soon return to their homes. However, authorities must first survey the area.


A tree burns along Whispering Pines Lane in Grass Valley while the Bennett Fire approached Idaho Maryland Road, prompting evacuations Wednesday afternoon.
Photo: Elias Funez


The blaze started around 3:30 p.m., forcing some initial evacuations in an area near Whispering Pines. By 4 p.m., the fire had already reached 20 acres in size, and just one hour later the blaze had already covered between 50 to 60 acres, according to Grass Valley Fire Chief Mark Buttron.

By 6 p.m., firefighters had a much greater level of control over the blaze, with the fire reported as reaching 64 acres in size but being 60% contained, Goodspeed said. The efforts of firefighters on the ground were significantly aided by Cal Fire’s air units, some of which used fuel retardant to help combat the blaze, Cal Fire said in a social media release about the incident.

Large billows of smoke from the Bennett Fire could easily be seen from downtown Grass Valley, as the fire expanded in size toward the evening. Nevada City resident Kurt Unholz, who was walking downtown near Mill Street when the first evacuation orders were issued, said that the fire’s quick growth made him nervous about his own home, adding that the early and severe onset of this year’s fire season is a source of worry for many residents.

“…What’s happening with the fires is just like a regular season now, and this one is really early in the season, too, it’s not even September, October, so it’s like, yeah, I think a lot of people are carrying stress about this stuff, at least subconsciously,” Unholz said, adding that regional fire seasons seem to have grown considerably worse in his lifetime.

“It seems like this is becoming a regular thing, like it’s either gonna rain or things are gonna burn with no in between,” he said.

In addition to units with Cal Fire and the Grass Valley/Nevada City Fire Department, firefighters responded to combat the blaze from a host of different departments, including Penn Valley Fire, Rough and Ready Fire, and Ophir Hill Fire, Goodspeed said.

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

Firefighters work a firing operation to burn fire fuels ahead of the head of the Bennett Fire Wednesday afternoon near Whispering Pines Lane.
Photo: Elias Funez
A utility pole and several outbuildings were damaged, if not destroyed, in the Idaho Maryland spot fire that started near Wednesday’s Bennett Fire.
Photo: Elias Funez
A tree torches along Centennial Drive Wednesday afternoon as the Bennett Fire approaches Idaho Maryland Drive.
Photo: Elias Funez
A spot fire from the Bennett Fire quickly becomes established in dry vegetation off Idaho Maryland Road Wednesday afternoon.
Photo: Elias Funez

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