Remember This?: Old Town fire threat as real now as then

1974 fire creeps close to Old Town Auburn
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
-A +A

They don’t fight fires they way they did in this classic news photo from the Auburn Journal archives.

But the danger of Old Town Auburn burning is as real as it was then as volunteer firefighters scurried in T-shirts and jeans up the steep brush-covered hillside above Interstate 80 near Old Town in August 1974 to extinguish a blaze.

The photo is in a file in the Journal morgue marked California Department of Forestry Fires 1974-77. The file’s contents show how Auburn was reacting in those times to a threat that has dogged the community since its Gold Rush days — and occasionally erupted into conflagerations of catastrophic proportions.

One June 1977 clipping reports on Placer County Public Works employee Ken Bowman traveling along Bell Road and spotting smoke from a house. He was able to radio in to “CDF”  (a commonly used shortened version of what is now Cal Fire and was then the California Department of Forestry) to guide firefighters to the home and bring out 80-year-old Jack Sheer.

In another report from 1977, the Journal told of arsonists igniting three roadside fires in the American River canyon at the confluence, lighting up 6 acres of thick brush. They occurred in the same area as a 250-acre canyon fire the summer before.

And sometimes, the Auburn area got lucky. A July 10, 1974 story told of “freakish wet weather” providing relief to firefighters after an intense time during the Fourth of July holiday that saw them dousing 29 fires in the county.

As they are today, state fire officials were providing warnings about the dangers lurking in the dry summer months.

Another 1974 article “CDF Stresses Fire Safety In Rural Areas” quotes Ranger-in-charge Jack Odgers reminding property owners to clear 30 feet around all buildings to give firefighters the edge in keeping a wildfire from destroying a home.

Gus Thomson and “Remember This?” can be reached at or 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.