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Fire crews battle 1,000-acre wildfire through the night

Local firefighters say spread of Robbers Fire to Foresthill would be ?heart wrenching?
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Nearly 1,500 firefighters from across California have transplanted into the Auburn-area to squelch Robbers Fire, but for some battling the wildfire is more personal than ever. Fire crews from as far south as San Diego and as far north as Siskiyou County, near the Oregon border, made the trip to fight the 1,157-acre blaze that began Wednesday. For several Foresthill firefighters who returned from working an overnight shift Friday morning, Robbers Fire presents a threat to the town they grew up in and now protect. It burns three miles northwest of Foresthill, at Shirttail Canyon Road and Yankee Jims Road, according to Cal Fire reports. For Keith Drone, 45, Foresthill Fire Department firefighter/paramedic, that is too close for comfort. His grandfather was born in Foresthill and the mountain town of just 1,483 people is home to him. ?It?s a pretty tight-knit community,? Drone said. ?You know the people in the houses you are protecting.? Jeff Palmer, 24, Foresthill firefighter, said if the fire were to make its way into town, it would be ?heart-wrenching.? Robert Sinetos, 31, Foresthill Fire Department captain, said protecting families in his hometown provides even more motivation to contain the fire beyond the 10 percent reported as of Friday. He worries that if Foresthill suffers devastation from the fire, people will choose to relocate because the recreational attractions that drew them to the more remote town would be destroyed. Being from Foresthill has also given the crew one tactical advantage ? familiarity with the area. ?We have seen every square mile, whether it was working or recreating,? Sinetos said. At about 11 a.m. on Friday, they were ready for some much-needed sleep, which would be in tents at the Gold Country Fairgrounds in Auburn. Fire crews are also staying at motels in the surrounding area. The fairgrounds has been transformed into a staging area with dozens of fire trucks parked in the lot, tents erected on the lawn and a make-shift kitchen and cafeteria sprawled out over the quad. In Placer Hall, stations equipped with laptops and bustling with personnel provide a base to coordinate logistics, including financing and motel accommodations. The containment effort as of Friday is made up of 42 fire crews from across California, manning 144 engines, 9 air tankers, 9 helicopters, 25 bulldozers and 12 water tenders. Other crews returning from the frontlines to the staging location Friday morning were refueling with a hearty breakfast. Walt White, assistant chief for Sacramento Metropolitan Fire, said his crew was working with Division Zulu off of Spring Garden Road. The heat has helped fuel the fire, and concerns for the safety of fire personnel. ?It makes it a struggle with the hot temperatures, low humidity and steep conditions,? White said. Crews came prepared to endure the summer temperatures, though. White said his firefighters train with intervals of physical activity and drills in the heat to get acclimated at the start of fire season. They are prepared to stand up to the flames for weeks if need be. White said they would find out later that day whether they?d be working 12-hour or 24-hour shifts on the strike team. ?When we walk out the door we have to be prepared for as long as 21 days now,? White said. ?The duration of our assignment really depends on how cooperative the fire is.? In the interim, members of the Auburn community have reached out to make the fire crews? stay a little more comfortable. After reading about the Robbers Fire Thursday, Ethan and Melanee O?Hagan decided they wanted to do something to show their gratitude for fire crews and support for the community. Ethan O?Hagan is the general manager of Old Town Pizza in Auburn, owned by Melanee?s parents Reese and Tammy Browning. The duo dropped off several boxes of pizza at the Red Cross Evacuation Center at the Veteran?s Memorial Hall in Foresthill and stopped by the staging area at the fairgrounds. Melanee O?Hagan said she and her mother were planning to take baked goods to local fire stations Friday afternoon. Seeing the impact of the Robbers Fire on families and fire personnel was poignant, she said. There were 150 residents threatened and evacuations remained in effect for homes off Yankee Jims Canyon and the Shirttail Canyon area, as well as parts of Iowa Hill as of Friday. ?We went to the Red Cross Evacuation center, which was a pretty moving experience. Seeing families displaced, it really hit close to home,? Melanee O?Hagan said. ?He (a firefighter receiving the pizza donation) had this great big smile on his face and he was kind of laughing. I am sure he was overwhelmed with all that was going on.? Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News.