Robbers Fire spreads to 1,157 acres between Colfax, Foresthill

Fire fears grip tiny, isolated Iowa Hill, spread to Auburn with smoke
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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UPDATE 7:40 A.M. JULY 13 - A small army of firefighters was working on the ground and in the air to rein in the wind-whipped Robbers Fire late Thursday in densely wooded canyon land between Colfax and Foresthill.

The fire footprint was reported by Cal Fire to have grown from 200 acres Wednesday night to 1,157 acres Friday morning as it burned outward from below a ridge between Shirttail Creek and the North Fork of the American River.

A total of 1,821 firefighters were being deployed Thursday in an effort to contain the fire footprint and keep flames from moving through the forest toward the small, mountain community of Iowa Hill to the northeast. As of Friday, that number dropped to 1,368.

By afternoon, the fire had also crossed Shirttail Creek and spread to 40 acres of land on the eastern slope of the canyon.

Signaling the serious danger of the fire, the number of firefighters had grown from Wednesday evening, bolstered by crews from as far away as Marin County.

Winds picked up from 4-8 mph in the morning to gusts of 18 mph in the afternoon, while shifting direction in the canyon and pushing the fire upward along Yankee Jims Road on the Foresthill side. Winds moved the fire away from the North Fork of the American River near the Yankee Jims bridge crossing.

In the morning, most of the concern was directed at the fire's potential path toward Iowa Hill, Cal Fire public information officer Jo Ann Cartoscelli said Thursday.

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By the afternoon, strike teams were being sent to homes near Yankee Jims Road that were believed to be threatened by the spreading fire, Cartoscelli said.
Priscilla Daniels, Iowa Hill Store owner, said residents of the isolated community of about 100 were on tenterhooks as shifting winds moved the direction of the fire away from the town and then closer to it - and then away again.

The store, the center of Iowa Hill resident communications, was working with Cal Fire to ensure the community was informed about a potential evacuation later in the day, she said. Evacuation would depend on the direction the fire was traveling, she said. The blaze's northeastern edge was an estimated four miles from Iowa Hill.

"It (the threat of evacuation) changes every half-hour," Daniels said. "As the winds change, conditions change."

The fire was first reported just after 3 p.m. Wednesday. Cartoscelli said no injuries or loss of structures had been reported by late Thursday. The fire was 10 percent contained by Friday morning.

Reports of the fire being started by fireworks were not being confirmed or denied by Cal Fire. Cartoscelli said that Cal Fire can't comment on the reports.

"There has been a lot of speculation but we are making no comments while it is under investigation," Cartoscelli said.

People who may have seen or heard something that could help in the investigation can contact Cal Fire, she said.

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Six people spent the night at the Foresthill evacuation shelter, located at the Veterans Memorial Hall on Harrison Road. Mike Fitch, a public information officer for Placer County, said several more people who had evacuated visited the Foresthill center on Wednesday but didn't stay. The Colfax Veterans Memorial Hall was available as a second evacuation location but was not being used.

Foresthill evacuees remain hopeful

On Wednesday, the Placer County Sheriff's Office issued an evacuation order for residents in the Kings Hill Road and Bushy Bear Ridge areas. The Sheriff's Office also made an emergency broadcast notice for residents within a one-mile radius of Iowa Hill to be ready to evacuate.

Evacuations were in effect for homes off Yankee Jims Canyon and Shirttail Canyon areas, as well as parts of Iowa Hill, Cal Fire reported 150 residences were threatened.

Seventeen streets had been evacuated and evacuations were in progress late Thursday for Spring Garden Road, Pine Grove, Log Cabin Lane, Pine Mountain Road, Small Hope Mine Lane and Owl Creek Road in the Yankee Jims Road area.
As well as about 1,368 firefighters on the ground, the Robbers Fire effort was bolstered by nine air tankers and nine helicopters.

Auburn residents were also expressing fire fears Wednesday. Auburn Fire Chief Mark D'Ambrogi said the city's emergency dispatchers started receiving reports of the billowing cloud of smoke soon after the blaze erupted.

A second wave of concern gripped the community starting around 10 p.m. Wednesday when smoke from the fire began to drift down into the city. Residents alerted to the smell called dispatchers. But D'Ambrogi said that there was no immediate threat and no fires were reported within city limits or nearby overnight.

"We were inundated (with calls) up and down the I-80 corridor," D'Ambrogi said. "Inversion sucks the smoke to the ground but there were no fires were reported in the Auburn area.

Watch video of firefighters battling the blaze from the Robbers Fire first day here


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