Sparks start 20-acre blaze
Sparks sent flying by a metal grinder ignited a 20-acre fire south of Alta Sierra Thursday, which mobilized firefighters across western Nevada County and elsewhere.
Workers at Kuma Corp., which sits at the end of Halcon Crest Court near Highway 49 and Cherry Creek Road, were grinding a metal I-beam about seven feet from a grassy uphill slope – three feet shy of the legal minimum – according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The flames quickly spread upward past a cluster of live oaks, a couple of which exploded, according to one witness.
“It just blossomed,” said Battalion Chief Rob Paulus of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “It just really exploded up that hill … and the challenge was really to pin it down before it hit Alta Sierra.”
Air and ground crews worked from 3:48 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. before the fire was contained. Crews were expected to work through the night putting out hot spots. No buildings were damaged, although six were threatened, Paulus said, and no one was injured.
Kuma Corp., an environmental services business, will be billed for the suppression costs because there wasn’t sufficient clearance between the grinder and vegetation, said CDF Captain Specialist Fred Lopez, the fire investigator.
“The law requires 10 feet, but 10 feet’s not nearly enough. We’d like to see 20 feet,” Lopez said, noting workers tried to douse the flames with a water hose.
Suppression costs haven’t been tabulated but might be substantial. Six air tankers, an air attack plane, two helicopters, six water tenders and 35 fire engines responded.
Carol Kawamoto, who identified herself as a property owner at the Kuma Corp. site, declined comment.
Smoke was first spotted by a worker at the Wolf Mountain Lookout, and CDF received a flurry of 911 calls after that. One came from Chris Petersen, a contractor building a house on the property.
“I did my deed for the day,” he said.
Neighbor Tami Adams thought he did more than that, and was grateful.
“A strange man comes in my front door and said, ‘Get your kids! Fire!'” Adams said.
Flames were stopped within a few dozen feet of her fence line.
On the fire’s back side along Buck Mountain Road, residents watched nervously as the fire climbed to the ridge. Helicopters emptied water buckets while tanker pilots dropped retardant.
“It’s down now pretty good, but there were flames blazing pretty good,” Don Nachtegaele said from the corner of Fairview Drive and Valkenburg Lane as ashes fell from the sky.
No evacuations were ordered, but deputies and firefighters alerted residents.
Joe Rickman casually watered down his house on Valkenburg. “I’m not the kind of guy who worries,” he said. “I’m just doing it because I don’t have anything to do.”
Besides all of western Nevada County’s firefighters, help also arrived from outside CDF units, and fire districts from Rocklin, Placer Hills, South Placer, Loomis and the state Office of Emergency Services.
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