Mandatory evacuations were announced this afternoon for River Pines Estates, a community of 200 homes in Amador County, as the Sand fire intensity increase, according to Cal Fire.
Since 2 p.m., the plumes of smoke have darkened to an orange red, indicating an increased intensity of the fire. Roughly 750 people were evacuated earlier because of the blaze, El Dorado County Sheriff’s officials said Saturday. The fire, which has charred 1,300 acres, has not spread and remains 20 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Five homes and seven outbuildings have been destroyed. Another 260 structures are under threat, said Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean .
More than 750 firefighters continued Saturday to battle the wildfire fire, which broke out in southern El Dorado County late Friday afternoon and quickly jumped the Cosumnes River into Amador County.
McLean said the area’s steep terrain is challenging firefighters, adding that a pickup in winds to 10 mph Saturday afternoon is expected to exacerbate the situation.
“There’s a potential for the fire to grow,” McLean said.
Sgt. Jeff Leikauf of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office said Friday that evacuations took place along Sand Ridge Road, east of Freshwater Lane. The El Dorado County Fairgrounds was opened to evacuees Friday and Saturday. The evacuations include those living on Dagostini Drive and those living on Bell , Upton, Twin Cities and Ryer Roads. Road closures extend form the the South Side of Sand Ridge Road at Highway 49 to Bucks Bar, Cal Fire said Saturday.
Area resident Elizabeth Bulloch said Saturday that her home was among the first threatened, forcing a hurried evacuation.
“We saw a huge plume of smoke yesterday afternoon and it was coming towards us very quickly,” she said. “We had about 20 minutes to pack up all of our important stuff. We saw our neighbor’s cabin go up in flames on TV.”
Along Highway 49, firefighters ferried large equipment-- including bulldozers and water tankers -- to the front lines on Saturday. Some of the normally bustling Amador County vineyards hung out signs that read 'sorry closed today.'
Lydia Miller, who lives about five miles from the blaze, drove around and took pictures of the smoke plumes.
"I think we're in trouble with this one," said the lifelong area resident as she stood on the side of Shenandoah Road.
Miller's husband and daughter were busy packing bags at home in anticipation of an evacuation order.
Nearby, a few River Pines residents gathered at the town's general store.
"We're very worried," said Teresa Lau, the store's owner. "What can you do? We need to save our lives."
On Friday, the blaze came within 200 yards of the Story Winery on Bell Road in Amador County before shifting direction.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen something like this,” said Della Bradford, a winery employee.
Speaking by phone, Bradford had to shout to make herself heard over the roar of firefighting helicopters passing overhead. Fires in the area typically burn on the north side of the river, she said. This was the first time she could recall one jumping the river.
Darlene Ott of the town of El Dorado in El Dorado County was en route to Calaveras County with her husband when the fire broke out about 4:45 p.m. They stopped at the Story Winery, where she met Bill Cleek and David Roberts, owners of nearby Rancho Cicada Retreat.
Ott said they reported the loss of several outbuildings and classic cars at their 44-acre resort, where about 45 people were gathered for an event. The guests headed home and Cleek and Roberts, with the help of firefighters, evacuated their property with a 250-pound tortoise and several turtles in tow, Ott said. The men, who have operated the retreat for 45 years, told her their home had been spared.
The fire was burning in an area of grass, oaks and a few pine trees. People in the area reported periodic flashes of flames as trees ignited.
Tom Tinsley, spokesman for Cal Fire’s Amador-El Dorado Unit, said the fire’s rapid spread was not surprising. There have been three years of drought, it is late July, the humidity is low and the temperature in late afternoon was in the upper 90s, he said.
Units from the Cosumnes Fire Department, Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, Folsom Fire Department and Wilton Fire Department responded as part of a local government strike team from Sacramento County.
George Eckert of Plymouth said he was driving home on Jackson Highway from Sacramento about 4:45 p.m. when he spotted a puff of smoke. By the time he got home, the puff had grown to a huge cloud of smoke, which he photographed from his hilltop residence. He estimated it was 7 or 8 miles from Plymouth at the time.
“We’ve lived here 28 years, and we’ve seen that area burn many, many times,” Eckert said. “But this is the first time I’ve seen it as nasty as this one.”
Eckert said he could hear sirens and see aircraft flying in and out of the smoke.
Bee Photographer Hector Amezcua and Bee Staff Writer Edward Ortiz contributed to this report