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  • Hector Amezcua / hamezcua@sacbee.com

    Jan Ulrich, left, goes over a map of the Robbers fire area with Sharon Page and Cheryl Andrews in Foresthill as they discuss ways to help evacuees.

  • HECTOR AMEZCUA / hamezcua@sacbee.com

    Firefighters, including some from the Sacramento Fire Department, seek shade Friday at Foresthill High School as they await their next assignment. The Red Cross on Friday also moved its evacuation center to the high school, where more facilities are available.

  • Hector Amezcua / hamezcua@sacbee.com

    Jim McCollam and his dog, Sitka, wait to find shelter for the night after the fire forced them to evacuate their home.

National Guard helicopters join Robbers fire fight in Placer County

Published: Saturday, Jul. 14, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jul. 18, 2012 - 1:21 pm

Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday assigned five specially equipped National Guard helicopters to join the fight against the Robbers fire, which continues to pose a threat in remote Placer County.

The five UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and the National Guard members who come with them will join the ranks of the roughly 1,600 firefighters and personnel already battling the blaze.

As of Friday evening, the fire had scorched 1,300 acres and threatened 170 homes. It remained only 10 percent contained and continued to be active on its southeast and northeast flanks, burning up to Brushy Creek in the Yankee Jims area.

Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said the fire burned right up to homes in that community Thursday night, but an aggressive defense by firefighters kept the properties safe.

Berlant said the fire has been largely driven by steep, bone-dry terrain – rather than wind, a typical culprit – so the National Guard helicopters are welcome additions to the scene.

"That is an important piece when you have a fire like this where we're really relying on our air fleet," he said.

Berlant said the fire still showed signs of life at its northwestern edge, the flank most likely to endanger the communities of Colfax and Weimar. Should the fire jump the American River on that end, it would enter the dangerously steep American River Canyon and could speed toward those communities.

Berlant said a number of strike teams already are positioned in that area should the fire make that leap.

On Thursday, a Cal Fire incident management team took over command of the firefighting effort. The agency has several such teams, made up of a few dozen specially trained personnel who are dispatched to major incidents across the state. The teams assume control of a hazardous situation and coordinate mutual aid, allowing local agencies to go back to handling traffic collisions, structure fires and other daily emergencies.

Berlant said hard work by firefighters had kept the Robbers fire at bay so far, but said winds picking up Friday afternoon posed a threat.

"It continues to make runs in many different directions," he said. "Because it's so dry and it's so terrain-driven, this fire is going to wherever the terrain takes it."

Friday afternoon, officials announced that the Red Cross had relocated the evacuation center from the Foresthill Veterans Memorial Hall to Foresthill High School, 23319 Foresthill Road. Mike Fitch, a spokesman for Placer County, said the high school offers more facilities, including showers, and has space to expand services if needed.

Placer County Animal Services has set up an animal shelter at the Gold Country Fairgrounds, 1273 High St., Auburn, for animals evacuated due to the fire. Fitch said a number of people in the rural area affected by the fire have horses that need a place to stay.

For evacuation-related information, call the Placer County Officer of Emergency Services at (530) 886-5310. For fire information, phone Cal Fire's Auburn call center, (530) 823-4083.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Kim Minugh



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