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Fire destroys Auburn homes, businesses

Containment expected Tuesday
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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A 275-acre blaze that destroyed about 60 structures including homes and businesses in Auburn prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a state of emergency in Placer County Sunday night. The fire, which was about 50 percent contained as of Sunday night, started at about 2:40 p.m. Sunday on Highway 49 and Rock Creek Road near Auburn and burned multiple homes to the ground and forced Auburn area residents from more than 200 homes to evacuate their neighborhoods. Andy Fisher, Placer County public information officer, confirmed that the county was informed late Sunday night that the governor had declared the Auburn area a state of emergency. He said the declaration could mean a potential reimbursement of costs but did not have further information as of press time. The cause remains under investigation, according to Cal Fire information online. Fire officials reported that they struggled to contain the fire against south winds. “The winds were a problem,” said Capt. Bob Eicholtz with Cal Fire. “This was a different wind driven fire. Normally our biggest enemy is the north wind, but it was a south wind today.” Full containment is expected by 6 p.m. Tuesday. Evacuations were ordered for residents in the areas of Highway 49 east to Quartz Road, Highway 49 north to Saddle Court, Dry Creek to Black Oak roads, Florence Lane to Stanley Drive, Locksley Lane, Moss Rock Drive and Shadow Rock Drive. Residents evacuated from Saddleback on Virginia Road were allowed back in their homes late Sunday night, according to Anita Yoder, Placer County spokeswoman. “We had the entire Saddleback area evacuated,” Eicholtz said. “Around 7 p.m. they were allowed to go back, however, several will remain at the evacuation center throughout the night.” Two evacuation centers were set up in Auburn: one at Rock Creek school and the other at Auburn Elementary. Volunteers at the Rock Creek center stood at the door and barred the media from entering a public school gym. Volunteers said as an evacuation center they were closing it off to protect the confidently of their clients, many of whom had lost their homes. Paul Realini, a senior volunteer with the American Red Cross, said they are working with Placer County officials and the Salvation Army to provide help for those forced from their homes or those who lost homes. Realini said people coming into the center were being asked to register and then provided food and drink. “We will be taking care of folks who were evacuated or who lost their home,” Realini said. While it was unknown as of press time whether or not the Red Cross would set up overnight shelters, schools were scheduled to remain open Monday, according to Michele Schuetz, Auburn Union School District superintendent. “We realize a lot of our families were impacted,” Schuetz said Sunday night from Auburn Elementary School. “We think for so many of our children that school is going to be their stable place so tomorrow they will be open.” At about 11 p.m. Sunday, Red Cross and county officials worked to open an overnight shelter for evacuees at Calvary Chapel and Church on 202 Dairy Road in Auburn, Yoder said. An animal evacuation center was also open at the DeWitt Center in Auburn. Yoder said numerous animals were brought in, some with burnt feet. Yoder said county staff took those animals to local veterinarians for treatment. American Red Cross and Salvation Army volunteers as well as Placer County Sheriff’s community chaplains were on hand to assist those who were forced out of their homes. As of Sunday night, multiple structures remained threatened and others had been damaged or destroyed. About 450 fire personnel assisted including 50 engines, 10 fire crews, eight air tankers, six helicopters and three dozers. Emergency crews closed off Highway 49 between Bell and Dry Creek roads as crews fought back flames that approached the roadway. Penne Usher contributed to this report. Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com. --------- Fire facts The following is a list of facts regarding the 49er Fire that started at about 2:40 p.m. Sunday on Highway 49 and Rock Creek Road near Auburn. The below information was available as of Sunday night before press time. The cause remains under investigation. Acres burned: 275 Containment: 50 percent Homes burned: Unofficial reported estimate about 30. Businesses were also destroyed. Number of homes evacuated: More than 200 Evacuation centers: Rock Creek School and Auburn Elementary School. Over night shelter at Calvary Chapel in Auburn Road closure: Highway 49 between Bell and Dry Creek roads was closed Total fire personnel: 450 Engines: 50 Fire crews: 10 Air tankers: 8 Helicopters: 6 Dozers: 3 ---------- Residents seeking more information about the fire can call Cal Fire’s hotline at (530) 823-4083 ----------