Many firefighters sent home as rain helps contain King fire

The King fire burning in the Sierra Nevada near Placerville has largely stopped growing, thanks in part to weekend rains, and thousands of firefighters have been sent home.

On Sunday, the fire stood at 97,099 acres and was 87 percent contained, said fire spokesman Jim Mackensen. About 4,800 firefighters and support personnel remain on the job, down from more than 8,000 at the fire’s peak.

“There’s (a containment) line all the way around it,” Mackensen said. “We don’t really anticipate any growth over the line.”

On Saturday, due to the rain, there was some mudslide activity reported near the community of White Meadows. Fire crews protected a few homes with sandbags as a precaution, but no damage to homes was reported.

“I have not yet heard of any water issues or mud issues,” Mackensen said. “But it’s certainly on our radar, and we’ll be very cautious of that.”

More rain was forecast over the fire zone on Sunday, but it was not expected to be enough to produce significant erosion or mudslide concerns.

“While the rain certainly stopped the fire progression, it’s also slowing up some of the mop-up work because there are areas we can’t get our people and equipment into,” he said. “It’s too muddy and slick. We had vehicles sliding off roads and that sort of stuff the past couple of days.”

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. crews were working over the weekend to repair a damaged power line in the French Meadows-Middle Fork area, spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo said via email. As of Friday, PG&E had replaced nine of 26 poles damaged in the fire and will need to rewire about a mile of line. The line serves Placer County Water Agency hydroelectric facilities.

“We are working as safely and quickly as we can to re-energize that line,” she said.

PG&E crews also completed work Thursday to restore power in the White Meadows area, where several structures were destroyed.

A significant shift in the fire command is planned starting Monday. CalFire crews, which have commanded the southern section of the fire, will depart along with a U.S. Forest Service crew that has managed the fire’s northern section. Both will be replaced by a fresh Forest Service crew which will manage the whole fire.

Mackensen said the move reflects two things: a transition in activity from strictly firefighting to more focus on mop-up and restoration; and a simple need to relieve fire crews.

“The CalFire team has been here for 14 days, and that’s typically when we try to rotate people out,” he said. “They’re pretty well fried after 14 days of this stuff.”

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