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  • RANDALL BENTON / rbenton@sacbee.com

    As smoke hangs in the canyon below, Foresthill residents check a bulletin board for information about the American fire, which has burned over 7,000 acres since Saturday. As firefighters try to contain the blaze in the Sierra foothills, air quality officials advise people in the area to stay indoors to avoid the worst effects of the smoky air that has blanketed the town.

  • RANDALL BENTON / rbenton@sacbee.com

    Smoke from the American fire fills the air along Foresthill Road near Foresthill on Friday. Firefighters are still working to contain the blaze, which has burned more than 7,000 acres since Saturday.

  • RANDALL BENTON / rbenton@sacbee.com

    Cattle rancher Ed Machado, left, and Judy Phelps look out at the smoky atmosphere at Stone's Brew coffee shop in Foresthill on Friday.

Smoke blankets town of Foresthill

Published: Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013 - 12:21 am

The thick black smoke billowing above the town of Foresthill hasn't postponed any weddings yet at the Forest House Lodge, which features nuptials amid the picturesque Sierra Nevada.

But guests are advised to stay indoors in the mornings, when smoke from the weeklong American fire in the Tahoe National Forest creates acrid air that can make throats particularly raspy.

And local air-quality officials say seniors and children should restrict their activities – at least until the early afternoon and evening, when the smoke dissipates.

"In the early morning, the smoke is settling and moving down slope," said Ann Hobbs, an air-quality specialist for the Placer County Air Pollution Control District. "At that point, it reaches our breathing level. We are able to smell the smoke, see the smoke and, quite frankly, taste it."

Nearly 1,226 of combined personnel and firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service, Cal Fire and other agencies are battling a 7,367-acre blaze, which broke out deep in the backwoods Saturday, about 17 miles northeast of Foresthill.

U.S. Forest Service spokesman Mark Brown said the fire, whose cause remains unknown, isn't endangering any neighborhoods or towns. But with steep, unpredictable landscape, it is difficult to predict when it will be brought under control, Brown said.

"With really steep terrain, you can't do anything but get hand crews in there to try to build a line," Brown said. "You can't really bring dozers in there. And any time it gets breezy, this fire gets really active."

Officials estimated that fire crews had the fire 31 percent contained on Friday – as they established a significant perimeter even as the fire area grew from 5,000 acres to more than 7,000.

Jamie Arno, spokeswoman for the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, said smoke from the fire has mostly been confined to the upper foothills region in Placer County.

"In Sacramento County, we are not seeing elevated particulate matter levels," Arno said.

In Foresthill, the fire hasn't affected business at the town's popular Ore Cart Steakhouse and Red Dirt Saloon. But manager Suzanne Ewing said the smoke in the mornings "is like a blanket – you can't see the mountains.

"We worry about it a little bit," Ewing said. "But the fire boys are doing a wonderful job. We got signs up all around town thanking them."

Wendy Lowery, 39, said her three daughters complain about the smoke at night when they're trying to sleep.

"It's hard to breathe, sometimes feeling a little bit wheezy and eyes burning," she said. "The smoke is not a good thing."

With the new school year underway this week, Foresthill Union School District officials carefully monitored the effects of smoke at their campuses.

"We watch the amount of smoke," said Foresthill Union Superintendent Shannon Jacinto, who also serves as principal of Foresthill Divide School.

"The little ones are brought into classrooms immediately," she said. "The older kids, they're a little more calm, just interested in talking to each other and not running around."

At Stone's Brew, a coffee shop along Foresthill's main road, Kim Poiesz, 51, said the smoke has made it harder to breathe but "everybody is just so good up here about it."

"It has affected us, smokewise, and all of us smell like smoke," Poiesz said. "So at least we all smell the same."

Helen Tarbet, a spokeswoman for the central coast interagency management team, said 41 hand crews, 35 fire engine units, 21 water tenders and 15 bulldozers are attempting to encircle the blaze. They are being assisted by eight water-dropping helicopters and large tanker planes that drop retardant.

A new camp has been established in the Greek Store area, made up of 215 personnel, to cut time to get to the south portion of the wildfire.

Brown said the fire is burning "in very dense timber." However, he said, firefighters "are getting a solid containment line along the edge of the fire, and we're feeling pretty good about it."

Call The Bee's Peter Hecht, (916) 326-5539.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.



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