Firefighter injured; expected rain could help crews battling King blaze

In advance of an expected shift in weather that could help firefighters get the upper hand on the massive King fire, an inmate firefighter suffered a serious injury Wednesday when a tree limb struck him.

The man was taken by helicopter to Sutter Roseville Medical Center, but his injuries are not considered life-threatening, said Dennis Mathisen, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. This is the sixth injury to a firefighter reported since the fire erupted Sept. 13.

“This is the only one where we’ve had to fly them out to a hospital,” said Mathisen, adding that the injured firefighter was expected to remain hospitalized overnight.

The firefighter was working the fire line amid steep, rugged terrain when he was struck by the limb Wednesday afternoon. Mathisen said he did not believe the limb was on fire. Some 7,600 firefighters are working the blaze. Hundreds of inmate firefighters work alongside professional fire crews.

“They are hard workers,” Mathisen said of the inmate firefighters.

While the rain is expected to be “on the lighter side,” a storm slowly moving into the Sacramento and foothills region overnight is expected to provide the first appreciable dose of rain since late April, National Weather Service forecasters say.

“We expect that the cooler weather coming in, and possibly rain, will help the situation,” Mathisen said. “We expect to take advantage of it and make some good headway.”

Weather service meteorologist Jim Mathews said Sacramento could see 0.10 inch of rain today. Totals should be higher in the foothills and into the Sierra, but it won’t be a gusher, Mathews said.

“We are not looking at downpours over that area, (but with) the moisture and (higher) humidity, it should put a damper on fire activity,” Mathews said.

The slow-moving storm will also bring lighter winds (a plus for firefighters), but could come with thunder and lightning (bad for firefighters). A series of light storms are expected to continue to move through the region through Saturday.

“I wouldn’t say we’re out of the woods this year on the fire season,” Mathews said. “But this could help with fire suppression.”

In other fire-related news, the residents of the mountain enclave of Swansboro in El Dorado County were cleared to return to their homes at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The community of about 400 homes was evacuated Sept. 15, just days after the fire began. Other evacuations remain in place.