A fire that started along eastbound Interstate 80 damaged or destroyed several structures, forced evacuations of rural neighborhoods and closed that portion of the freeway for several hours Wednesday afternoon near the Placer County communities of Weimar and Applegate.
The Applegate fire was reported 10 percent contained at 380 acres Wednesday night, but evacuations remained in effect.
Alyssa Smith, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, confirmed that some structures had been damaged or destroyed, but she did not know whether they were homes or outbuildings or their specific locations. She said assessment teams would be sent in to determine the damage.
“Our main concern is getting the fire out as soon as possible,” Smith said.
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Although fire officials reported Wednesday evening that crews had made good progress along I-80 in the area where the fire started, Smith said that drought conditions and potential shifts in the wind were ongoing concerns in halting the fire’s advance. The fire was burning largely in dense vegetation and fields, areas that are easier for crews to access than the drainages that made firefighting efforts particularly difficult in the recent King fire.
Approximately five fires were reported along I-80 at Applegate shortly before 1:30 p.m. Smith said their cause has not been determined.
The Placer County Sheriff’s Office ordered evacuations in the communities of Applegate, Heather Glen, Weimar and Twin Peaks, directing residents to evacuation centers in Colfax and Foresthill.
About 10 people had stopped by the Colfax evacuation center as of 7:30 p.m., according to the Red Cross.
Cheri Andrews, a Weimar resident, was waiting for her husband at the Colfax center. It took two hours to get home from her workplace in Roseville, a trip that usually takes 45 minutes, Andrews said.
“We don’t know what’s going on,” she said, echoing the sentiment of other evacuees.
Bradley Duck, also of Weimar, saw the flames as she was returning from Auburn. The small fires, numbering about 10, she said, were on the side of the freeway around 1:30 p.m.
Throughout the afternoon and the evening commute, the state Department of Transportation advised motorists to avoid the area. Cars were detoured to Bell Road in Auburn and northbound Highway 49, and big rigs to Highway 20.
The Sheriff’s Office initially announced mandatory evacuations for Pine Cone Pete Road, Hummingbird Hill Road, Panorama Lane and High View Lane. The evacuation was later expanded to include Ponderosa Way to the state park boundary, Bridge Trail Way, Brushy Ridge, Hidden Ridge, Cross Road and East Ridge, with residents of those areas directed to use Ponderosa Way across Ponderosa Bridge to Foresthill Road to an evacuation center in Foresthill.
Applegate resident Melissa Polaski, in a telephone interview, said she lives south of the fire. As of about 6 p.m., she said she had not been told to evacuate, but Polaski said she had her children together and was packed up and ready to go if necessary.
Polaski said she first noticed puffs of smoke in the early afternoon and watched those puffs grow to a thick plume. “It looks like it’s going up the hill,” she said.
Robert Miller, a public information officer for Placer County, said he didn’t know how many residences had been evacuated, noting that homes are spread out in the largely rural area.
“The fire spread pretty quickly,” he said.
The county used automated phone calls, text messages and emails to alert residents to the fire and mandatory evacuations.
As of Wednesday night, Miller said, no school closures were planned, either due to fire or smoke conditions, although he said that could change.
Evacuation centers are at the Sierra Vista Community Center, 55 School St., Colfax; the Veterans Memorial Hall, 24600 Harrison St. in Foresthill; and the Auburn Veterans Memorial Hall, 100 East St., Auburn. An animal evacuation shelter also has been set up at the Gold County Fairgrounds, 1273 High St., Auburn.
Miller said a nurse is available at each of the evacuation centers to provide medical aid.
Placer County’s public information line is staffed to handle public inquiries about the fire at (530) 886-5310. The Cal Fire information line is (530) 823-4083.
Cal OES, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, announced that Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday secured a Fire Management Assistance Grant to help ensure the availability of resources to extinguish the Applegate fire.