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.

Butte County families face evacuation in Swedes fire

Published: Monday, Aug. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 - 11:06 am

Bridgett Mollet and her family had less than five minutes to flee their home on Swedes Flat Road on Saturday as the wildfire near Oroville grew.

They spent the night in an evacuation shelter set up for Swedes fire victims.

"We weren't part of the evacuation plan," said the 33-year-old military widow. "The sheriff's (deputies) came and got us because there was only one way out."

On Sunday, Mollet and her two children, mother, sister and grandfather planned to spend a second night at the Church of the Nazarene in Oroville, the designated evacuation center.

Nine people stayed at the shelter Saturday night, according to the site's manager, Pam Deditch of the American Red Cross.

"We have nowhere else to go, and the evacuation order hasn't been lifted," Mollet said.

The family's pets – four grown dogs, three puppies and a cat – were dropped off at the Old County Hospital in Oroville.

Four horses who belonged to a neighbor but were on the Mollet's 240-acre property were left behind.

"Right now, the house and property are OK, and as far as I know the horses are still there – unless the animal rescue team got them," Mollet said.

The Swedes fire, which started Friday afternoon southeast of Oroville, had grown to 1,995 acres by Sunday evening, and threatened about 700 homes.

It was 45 percent contained as of Sunday morning, with 900 firefighters working it.

It was one of at least 10 wildfires that thousands of federal, state and local firefighters fought in California on Sunday.

In Placer County, the American fire, in steep terrain near Foresthill, had consumed nearly 13,000 acres and was 45 percent contained.

Nearly 1,500 firefighters were battling the fire, whose smoke was creating breathing problems from the Lake Tahoe region to the Valley.

No structures were burned and no people were reported injured in the fire.

However, officials said they are concerned by weather reports of thunderstorms and dry lightning strikes today through Wednesday.

In Butte County, a new evacuation warning was issued Sunday afternoon for homes northwest of the blaze, which already had consumed one home, one garage, three outbuildings and a number of vehicles.

"A warning gives people plenty of time to prepare to leave; an evacuation order means that we're encouraging them to leave," said Mary Ann Alridge, fire prevention specialist with Cal Fire/Butte County Fire.

On Friday, Mollet was in Oroville at the time that the Swedes fire started.

"The fire was on the other side of the street and it looked like it was heading toward the lake," she said. She was allowed to go home Friday night.

"The whole hill was on fire," she said. "You could see it better at night – it's all red, with flames 20 to 30 feet high. It's timber and brush, and there might have been wind."

At around 1 p.m. Saturday, Mollet was down the hill from the house, watching the fire, when sheriff's deputies came and told the family they had to leave.

She ran up the hill, grabbed her two kids – Joseph, 14, and Raina, 11 – and managed to round up three of the dogs – Houdini, Snoopy and Beethoven – and the cat, Girl, and piled into her brown Dodge Durango.

Her mother, Janet Jones, who lives with Mollet, and her brother, Daniel Jones, 31, of Oroville took Rosie, a 2-year-old shepherd lab mix, and her 3 1/2-month-old puppies and put them into Janet Jones' sedan.

Mollet's sister, Elizabeth Jones, 32, who also lives with Mollet, also hopped into the car, which led the caravan.

Mollet's grandfather, Louie Brown, 81, who owns the house and property, left last in his pickup truck.

Mollet spent the weekend shuttling among the evacuation centers.

"I have to go to the animal shelter two to three times a day to help with the dogs," she said.

A steady stream of people have been dropping by the Church of the Nazarene since it was opened as an evacuation center.

"A lot of them stopped by to tell us that they're OK, but then they go to families or hotels," Deditch said.

As of early Sunday evening, a total of 11 people were planning to stay at the church for the night.

Meanwhile, more than 50 volunteers with the North Valley Animal Disaster Group were taking in or checking on pets and animals taken to the centers.

Small animals were sent to the old county hospital, at 2279 Del Oro Ave., while the larger ones went to the Camelot Equestrian Center, at 1985 Clark Road.

As of late Sunday afternoon, the two centers had 28 dogs, 25 goats, 21 cats, 20 horses, 18 rabbits, 12 chickens and one rooster.

"The number of rabbits may be expanding," said Kate Leyden, a volunteer with the group. "We have one new nest."

With the newest evacuation warning, she said, the group is bracing for more animals to come into the two centers.

"If there is active evacuation, we will be there," Leyden said. "Humans will not evacuate without their animals."

Call The Bee's Tillie Fong, (916) 321-1006.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Tillie Fong



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