Wind direction shift could spell Robbers Fire trouble

New system moving in forecast to turn wind around and to the south
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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UPDATE 8:40 A.M. July 17- A stubborn wildfire burning in the canyons between Foresthill and Colfax had grown to 2,650 acres by Tuesday and Cal Fire was digging in for a shift in wind direction that could cause trouble later this week.

However, crews continued to make progress and Cal Fire reported Tuesday morning 50 percent containment of the Robbers Fire.

Six days into a fire that has sent thick smoke nightly into neighboring communities and fear into residents near the blaze, the firefighting force had grown to nearly 2,150 in an effort to put out a fire that has gained a strong foothold in the steep, heavily wooded canyon slopes east of the North Fork of the American River.

Cal Fire reported Monday that another 100 acres had been added to the fire footprint, with the spread overnight on the north and east sides threatening Brushy Creek subdivision, Haynes Mine and Kings Hill areas.

But with a reprieve in both winds and heat, Cal Fire and crews from across the state were building dozer lines and creating earthen buffer zones intended to stop the fire?s spread when winds shift from the south to the north.

?We are making progress, despite the winds pushing the fire,? Cal Fire information officer Daniel Berlant said.

Most of the containment is in the southern portion of the fire near where it started along Shirttail Canyon. The northwest portion is the most active, with fires burning in Indian Creek and both sides of Salvation Ravine, Berlant said.

Strike teams have been assigned to areas where structures are threatened, including Brushy Creek, where 15 rural homes are perched on the side of the canyon.

On Monday, a crew from Marine County Fire Department was working what is called ?the black side? of the fire ? an area that has been burned over but still contains ?hot spots? under the charred earth of smoking ash that could reignite and be carried into unburned areas when the wind shifts.

Marin Fire engineer Mark Burbank and crew members had started working on the fire Wednesday after working several days on the Sites Fire, near Williams.

?We?re trying to take the fuel away,? Burbank said. ?We?re trying to provide a perimeter of support for when winds come up.?

Burbank said that while his days and nights are spent working long shifts and then recovering, he was able to see his wife, son and daughter for just an hour because they were in Roseville this  weekend for a wedding. Burbank has relatives in the fire zone, including a sister-in-law living in Colfax.

?I?ve been away eight days and I had an hour to share a Slurpee and be with them,? Burbank said. ?It?s the small things.?

Four outbuildings and one home have been destroyed in the Robbers Fire. Cal Fire information officer Adan Orozco said the location of the home that was destroyed was not being released until after its homeowners had been notified.

A total of 170 more residences were being described as threatened ? the same number reported late Sunday.

"Firefighters continue to strengthen the fire perimeter in preparation for changing weather conditions," Orozco said.

The fire started off Shirttail Canyon Road and Yankee Jims Road, northwest of Foresthill.

Containment was at 30 percent on Monday morning - the same percentage as the night before. The number of people evacuated from homes on the edge of the canyon has also stabilized at 350, with no new orders since Thursday. Berlant said no one was being allowed to return Monday. 

The fire was first reported at about 3:25 p.m. Wednesday. The cause is still under investigation, Cal Fire reported. The cost to fight the fire is now an estimated $5.6 million.

Two air tankers and 15 helicopters are being deployed to drop fire retardant and water on the fire and its fringes to help contain it. The most prominent aircraft was being seen flying up the Interstate 80 corridor on Sunday evening carrying a 12,000-gallon payload of fire retardant. Orozco said the plane is a DC-10 that is being used to pre-treat large patches of ground.

?It?s providing a big help,? Orozco said.

The encouragement of Foresthill-area residents near the fire lines has also bolstered firefighter spirits, Orozco said. Some of the firefighters have been on the line in shifts of 12 to 24 hours at a time since the blaze started on Wednesday, he said. Signs have sprung up thanking the small army of firefighters for their work in near-100-degree temperatures.

?As tired as they are coming off the line, it has been very encouraging for them to see that the public is appreciative,? Orozco said.

And while containment is up, the 2,000-plus firefighters are remaining as winds are expected to pick up Monday evening to gusts of 20 mph on the ridgelines of the canyons.

?No one?s going home,? Orozco said.

How the Robbers Fire was named

 The Robbers Fire was given its name by Cal Fire early on as a means of identifying it. Berlant said that a single word is regularly used for a fire title and it?s generally describing a location or street near where the fire was first reported. In the case of the Robbers Fire, it refers to Robbers Ravine, which was initially described by several witnesses as the location of the start of the fire, Berlant said.

On the radio

Reporter Gus Thomson will be a guest on Capital Public Radio?s ?Insight,? which starts at 10 a.m. Tuesday. He?ll be talking about the Robbers Fire. 


For coverage Saturday, read here.

For Friday video coverage of the fire fight, click here.

For Thursday's video of the Robbers Fire, click here.

For Wednesday's coverage of the Robbers Fire, click here.


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