Four firefighters were injured Sunday in the hot-burning Lowell blaze in Nevada County, and the size of the fire was lowered to 1,500 acres after state officials completed a more accurate mapping of the blaze.
Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said via social media that the firefighters were airlifted out of the area with burn injuries and were being treated at the UC Davis Burn Center Sunday night.
Three of the firefighters - two from Cal Fire and one from U.S. Forest Service - should be treated and released this evening, according to a Cal Fire press release. The fourth firefighter, from the U.S. Forest Service, has been admitted with serious burn injuries. A Cal Fire accident review team is investigating the incident.
The fire appeared to slow down and head west after burning south since starting Saturday afternoon. No structural damage had been reported as of Sunday night, but 1,800 homes were still in danger. The fire was 15 percent contained with over 1,100 firefighters on scene, according to Berlant. Cal Fire said the fire is expected to be contained by next weekend.
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Mandatory evacuations are in place for people in the foothill communities of Red Dog, Chalk Hill and You Bet. An evacuation center has been opened at Nevada Union High School.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection originally reported that nearly 4,000 acres had burned. The estimate, conducted with a visual survey, was deemed inaccurate once officials dispatched aircraft to make an infrared map, said Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff.
“It’s not uncommon for a fire to shrink,” Tolmachoff said, noting that it can be difficult to get a good estimate when conditions are hot.
On Sunday morning, the air near the Placer County community of Gold Run was largely clear with the bright sun shining over the foothills. A cloud of smoke appeared to hover like a cloud about two miles away in Nevada County.
While the fire still hadn’t jumped the Bear River, which separated the fire from Placer neighborhoods, air tankers worked furiously, dumping the hills with bright, red-tinged flame retardant.
Residents of the nearby communities of Gold Run, Alta and Dutch Flat watched the fire wearily. Stein Woldseth, 46, peered over the hill with his binoculars and let out a sigh of relief.
“It was quite a bit worse yesterday,” he said, referring to the big black plumes of smoke that dominated the skyline.
The smoke prompted the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District to update its advisory late Sunday morning, urging precautions.
The district stated that air quality worsened considerably for most of western Nevada County overnight with winds pushing smoke into the most populated areas. The smoke was expected to push across Nevada County Sunday.
The district said smoke concentrations are expected to remain unhealthy for sensitive groups and potentially reach the hazardous range throughout the region.
Adding to the chaos, a big rig caught fire on westbound Interstate 80 near where it intersects State Route 174, causing traffic backups on both highways at about 12:30 p.m. Sunday, the California Highway Patrol reported. By 1:30 p.m., the road was being cleared, but traffic remained congested.
Nearly 800 firefighters were at work taming the blaze that began 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Nevada County.
Cindie Stetler, who has lived in Alta for 35 years, said she couldn’t recall ever being under the threat of evacuation. She said she has purchased several boxes to load with family photos and other heirlooms.
Don Wortell, 66, another Alta resident tried to make the most of the situation, joking, “I needed a whole new set of furniture anyhow.”
“That doesn’t mean I’m letting all my stuff go to hell. I’m taking all my good stuff.”
Injuries: 4 firefighters
Total Personnel: 1,111
Source: Cal Fire