900-acre blaze hard to hit | TheUnion.com

900-acre blaze hard to hit

COLFAX – Battling low humidity and shifting winds, more than 800 firefighters succeeded Monday in containing half of the 900-acre Stevens Fire burning in the American River Canyon near Interstate 80.

Helicopters sucking water from the north fork of the American River and Rollins Lake reservoir swooped above the blaze to aid fire crews navigating the steep terrain of the canyon, where the blaze reportedly was started by an electrical short in an unoccupied trailer Sunday afternoon.

Residents were advised to stay away from the Stevens Trail and Robber’s Roost areas today as the fire burned into Monday night. On Sunday, about 100 homes were abandoned after being threatened by the blaze. On Monday, the fire claimed one mobile home.

“The hottest part of the fire is where the evacuees (live),” said Kathleen Schori, a Redding Fire Department firefighter and CDF spokeswoman. “That area is still our biggest concern.”

As of late Monday evening, CDF officials had set no firm containment date for the fire. Because of the steep hillsides, relatively few fire trucks were stationed inside the canyon, though engines were protecting the homes nearby.

“You have very difficult topography,” said Shane Lauderdale, a CDF firefighter and Redding Fire Department crew member. “There are locations in the canyon wall where you simply cannot get to.”

Lauderdale compared the conditions of the Stevens Fire to the Ponderosa Fire in 2001, when it burned 2,700 acres near Weimar, not far from where the Stevens Fire raged.

Low humidity, difficult terrain and high temperatures “make for an extremely challenging firefighting conditions,” Lauderdale said. “There’s no way around it.”

Many Colfax-area residents were simply taking the fire in stride Monday, congregating on the overlook behind the Cape View bar or staying with relatives until further notice.

Asked if he was worried about his home, Colfax resident Gary Brownlee paused.

“Not yet,” he said, adding that the fire seemed too close to home. “People don’t realize that fire can move really fast.”

Ernestine “Ernie” Roraff, the Cape View’s owner, serves as a volunteer lookout, using the large wraparound window at the front of the bar as her vantage point.

Roraff said she noticed the smoke billow for several minutes Sunday before deciding to call for help.

Through her window, Roraff can see the trains rumbling on the Union Pacific tracks – several made the slow crawl through the canyon Monday – as well as her share of emergencies. About 10 years ago, Roraff called for help after noticing smoke from two flares fired by stranded skiers near the Soda Springs resort, and watched former President George H.W. Bush’s train rumble through town, its presidential seal glowing in the sunlight.

“We see a lot through these windows,” she said.

Out on the porch, Linda Hill, who works at a gas station a few miles east of Colfax on Interstate 80, said she saw highway workers placing orange detour signs on the side of the highway, preparing for a detour if necessary.

“We all live and work right near these people, and we’re concerned about them,” she said, puffing on a cigarette and sipping a cold glass of beer.

Her friend, Lorrie Goulet, fretted about her sister and brother-in-law, Penny and Bob Arrant, who have a new home on Robber’s Ravine.

“I know they’re going to be OK. I just hope they don’t lose their house and everything in it.”

While there were about 150 human evacuees, Hawkeye Sharpe, a volunteer with the California Veterinary Medical Association, kept watch over the horses, dogs, cats, mules and rats displaced by the fire, helping to transport them to the Gold Country Fairgrounds in Auburn.

“People can evacuate themselves, but animals are stuck,” said Sharpe, adjusting his tall Stetson and stroking his white beard. “They’re helpless beings.”

While dozens of animals were being transported to the Gold Country Fairgrounds in cages, helicopters flew over Rollins Lake, hovering within inches of the water, their rotors creating small hurricanes as waves splashed against houseboats and personal watercraft buzzing past.

Like massive vacuums, the copters sucked 3,000 gallons with each drop, creating a vortex that sloshed the smaller boats in its wake.

Visit http://www.theunion.com for updates on this story throughout the day.

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