Cal Fire:Robbers Fire containment could come Saturday

Foresthill, Iowa Hill-area locations continue closed as containment increases
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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UPDATE: 7:10 P.M. JULY 17 - Robbers Fire defense lines were holding through Tuesday and Cal Fire was reporting the stubborn blaze could be bottled up by the weekend.

Cloudy skies and cooler temperatures greeted firefighters on the seventh day of a fire that broke out last Wednesday afternoon in steep, heavily forested canyon lands between Foresthill and Colfax.

Fire officials were also discussing the status of evacuees and the steps that could be taken to return residents to their homes.

“But there is no time or date yet,” Cal Fire public information officer Daniel Berlant said Tuesday. “Things are looking better but there is no hard date.”

Berlant said law enforcement has provided limited access to some homes in evacuation areas for residents to retrieve crucial medical prescriptions and some other possessions. Fire personnel have also assisted by doing some animal checks, to feed and water livestock left on property, he said.

Removing the evacuation order would be done when an area is deemed relatively safe, Berlant said.

The fire footprint spread 50 more acres to 2,650 acres from Monday to Tuesday – signaling a slowdown in its growth. Berlant said that most of the fire activity Tuesday was continuing in parts of the Iowa Hill area. The acreage did not grow throughout the day Tuesday.

“There have been some hot spots but we’ve been able to jump on them early,” Berlant said.

Containment rose from 30 percent to 60 percent as firefighters used most of Monday and Tuesday to build defenses along steeply sloped dozer trails by back-fire burning and tree clearing. Helicopters and air tankers bombed fire hot spots from above with water and fire retardant.

Late in the day, Cal Fire issued a statement saying full containment was expected by Saturday.

The effort continued Tuesday, particularly near King’s Hill, a small enclave of rustic homes in the woods rising over canyons, at about 2,800 feet in elevation. One outbuilding burned over the weekend while other homes were saved. Berlant said defensible space provided firefighters with a fighting chance at several homes. The homes were preserved as fire burned around them.

“They had cleared out thick brush,” Berlant said. “Defensible space saved these buildings.”

 A total of 170 residences near the fire remained threatened and 350 evacuees waited for possible word Tuesday of a possible return to their homes.

Evacuations remain in effect for homes off Yankee Jims Canyon and Shirttail Canyon areas, as well as parts of Iowa Hill. The evacuation orders in those two areas were given last Wednesday and Thursday as the fire made a run toward Iowa Hill and Foresthill.

Firefighters faced their toughest test over the weekend in the King’s Hill area south of Iowa Hill and four miles east of Colfax.

Tuesday was spent putting out hot spots with mattocks and water – in marked contrast to Sunday, when the blaze took a run and firefighters had to retreat, while planes and helicopters dropped water and retardant to keep the fire at bay.

Battalion Chief Jesse Estrada, division supervisor in the King’s Hill fire area, said humidity had increased Tuesday, making burning not as intense as it had been in near 100-degree temperatures. Temperatures were in the high 60s Tuesday.

“The weather’s a lot more cooperative today,” Estrada said.

Cause of the fire remains under investigation, with Cal Fire officials declining to comment further on its status.

But Berlant, without commenting directly on the Robbers Fire investigation, said that almost 94 percent of wildfires are “human-caused.”

“Mother Nature starts a very small amount of fires,” Berlant said.

With smoke billowing high into the sky and spreading into nearby communities, the Robbers Fire has been a focus of attention regionally and is also the object of national media attention. Berlant said ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America” reported on the fire Monday.

Cal Fire has hit the fire hard, bringing 2,200 firefighters and support staff in from around the state.  That number was down to just under 2,000 by late Tuesday. The state fire authority estimates the total cost of fighting the Robbers Fire by Tuesday had reached $8.1 million.

View our photo gallery from Monday's Robbers Fire coverage here.

For coverage and video from Monday, click here.

For coverage Saturday, click 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.

Watch courtesy video of the California Naitonal Guard helping out with the Robbers Fire here.


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