Democrat staff writer
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It will be 31 years this September since the terrible Chili Bar Fire ravaged through the American River Canyon, burning nearly 7,000 acres and destroying five buildings in the process.
The fire, a disastrous blaze that terrorized Placerville residents for three straight days, still lives in the hearts and minds of firefighters who answered the call for help Ñ especially for the Mosquito Fire Department, a volunteer crew led by Fire Chief Paul Hinds.
Now, three decades later, ÒThe Chili Bar Fire: A Rural ChiefÕs RecollectionÓ has been printed to preserve the memory of those fateful days. The purpose of the book is to do two things: Bring awareness to the potential vulnerability we face, as exemplified through the Chili Bar Fire, and to create a perpetual funding mechanism for the Mosquito Fire Protection District through their non-profit fund-raising entity, the Mosquito Volunteer Fire Association.
The book is 86 pages chronicling of the events as seen through the eyes of Hinds, as well as other fighters including Jim Simmons, retired chief with the California Department of Forestry, retired Garden Valley Fire Chief Ben Scott; Debbie and Rusty Harris; Maya Hinds and Cheryl Johnson and her mother Kathleen Adams, who lost her home near Mosquito Road during the blaze.
In addition to serving as a preserver of our countyÕs local history, the book is bred out of a benevolent cause. All proceeds from the bookÕs sales will go to the Mosquito Volunteer Fire Association, an organization in charge of providing support for the Mosquito firefighters.
Hinds, one of the main contributors to the book and MosquitoÕs fire chief during the September fire, shares his journal logs, notes and emotions through a powerful and moving account of what went down in the fall of 1979.
ÒI did not publish the book myself,Ó Hinds said. ÒJan Escamilla wanted to do something for the Mosquito Fire Department, and thought that a book or rather a compilation of accounts from that fire, if it were to be published, could help support the Mosquito volunteer firefighters with at least some amount of funding that they could allocate and use for whatever they may need.
ÒShe asked me if I could contribute some of my stories from the fire to the book, and so I went about gathering up what I could find, and recalling all that I could to help her with that.Ó
The Chili Bar Fire was an exceptional example of why separate departments today all rely on universal protocols when collaborating on large forest and wildfires. In 1979, no regulations were in place to allow for a smooth operation between different departments and groups, thus making progress against the fire had to come down to sheer determination and will power.
ÒI remember dealing with the communication breakdowns, and the frustration that caused us,Ó Hinds said. ÒThe town only had one radio channel to dispatch across, and it would get tied up due to an extreme amount of use. It became difficult to relay instructions or get information on an immediate basis, when you knew there were guys down in that canyon fighting for their lives.Ó
The first third of the book is dedicated to recounting the event in its entirety, with recollections from Hinds regarding everything from Sunday, Sept. 16th, 1979, until Tuesday, Sept. 18, 1979. Maya HindsÕ ÒChili Bar DiaryÓÑ the one she kept when she was 12 years old, gives the fire to readers through the perspective of a young adolescent. Scott, Hinds, Simmons and Debbie HarrisÕ accounts are all included in the book as well, giving readers an intriguing and gripping perspective on the effect the fire had on county residents and Placerville home owners.
ÒItÕs difficult for me,Ó Hinds said. ÒBecause you canÕt go back and redo the past. If you are constantly revisiting a past that was just horrible, youÕre always calculating in hindsight. ÔOh if I had only done this,Õ or ÔMaybe I should have done that.Õ That is never something that you can actually change.
ÒHowever, I will say that it has been nice to share my stories with those who contributed to the book. In compiling these stories, IÕve learned things and gained new insights into all that happened, that I am grateful for. For just about all of us, it was 72 hours that were running on pure adrenaline, so to hear different parts and elements of those who were there, it does help me to gain a full perspective on those days and nights.Ó
The book is available for sale at local vendors such as the Placerville News Company and the El Dorado County Historical Museum on Main Street. Additionally, residents can purchase a copy of the book for $20 directly from the Mosquito Fire Protection District located on 8801 Rock Creek Road in Placerville. Included in the book is a pull out topographical map of the region affected by the fire, including points of interest and crucial developments in the blaze, and containment of the fire as well.
It also features news photos from the Mountain Democrat, with a cover photo by Michael Raffety, city editor at the time.
All proceeds from the sale of ÒThe Chili Bar FireÓ will be directed to the Fire Fighters Fund of the Mosquito Volunteer Fire Association.