A fast-moving fire that began in El Dorado County Friday afternoon and then moved into Amador County has burned more than 4,000 acres.
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Named the Sand Fire, 10 residences and seven outbuildings have been destroyed and 515 more are threatened. Containment was at 35 percent by Sunday morning with firefighters hampered by weather conditions and steep terrain.
Starting at approximately 4:34 p.m., the fire began at the juncture of Highway 49 and the North Fork of the Cosumnes River. It then jumped the river into Amador County and moved east. As of Saturday evening, over 4,000 acres had been burned and a brown pall extended over Placerville with the fire continuing to move in a north-easterly direction.
On Saturday, Sand Ridge Road was closed.
Cal Fire spokesperson Lynn Tolmachoff said about 700 homes had been evacuated since Friday evening with the evacuation order expanded on Saturday to cover residences in and around River Pines Estates.
Evacuations were initially ordered of those living on Fresh Water, Burlwood, Morales Ranch Road, Vintage Trail, Upton Road and Twin Rivers Road. New evacuations were of those living on Vintage Road to Sand Ridge Road, all of Buzzards Gulch Road, and Vintage Road to Morning Canyon Road. Additional evacuations were ordered in the Fairplay area on Saturday afternoon.
Evacuees were relocated to the El Dorado County Fairgrounds and then moved to Ponderosa High School where the Red Cross set up operations. Inside the gym were cots for sleeping while Red Cross staff and volunteers circulated among the evacuees providing them with food, water and comfort.
David Kennedy, the Emergency Service Coordinator for the Red Cross, said 45 people were at the evacuation center Saturday evening but more were expected as additional residents were evacuated. Many came with little more than their clothes on their backs and their pets. Larger animals were being cared for at the fairgrounds.
Sitting at one picnic table were three residents, all of whom live on the same block of Buzzards Gulch. One man said he had just gotten off work when a sheriff’s deputy told him he needed to evacuate. A neighbor, Cindy, said she only had time to take a change of clothing, a picture and her medicine. Commenting on operations by the Red Cross, Cindy said it was “lovely” how well they were being cared for.
Other evacuees were similarly grateful. Rick Ogden and Colleen Okey talked while they ate dinner provided by the Red Cross. One of those who already know their home was lost to the fire, they said they evacuated Saturday afternoon as the fire intensified. “It was so hot I couldn’t stand it any more,” said Ogden. “The flames were 200 feet in the air and created a wind of 50 miles an hour, burned up the hill and surrounded us.” Escaping with the bare essentials, including their three dogs, they arrived at the high school in shock. That’s when a couple, who were total strangers, offered to put them up in their RV and to cook for them. Grateful for all the help they have received, Ogden was philosophical about the fire, saying, “We take our lumps and move on and try to keep smiling.”
The fire was initially thought to be under control Friday night but picked up again Saturday fueled by triple-digit temperatures and 20 mph wind gusts that fed on tinder dry trees and grass.
Almost 1,500 fire personnel are engaged in fighting the fire including units from the Cosumnes Fire Department, Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, Folsom Fire Department and Wilton Fire Department. Airtankers, helicopters, dozers and water tenders are being employed along with 149 fire engines. A giant DC-10 air tanker is also being used to drop fire-retardant.
Cooperating agencies include Diamond Springs Fire, El Dorado County Fire, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, California Highway Patrol, El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office, Amador County Sheriff’s Office, Cal Trans and the Red Cross.
As of press time Sunday, there was only one reported minor injury and it was to an inmate firefighter.
The cause of the fire is being attributed to a vehicle driving on dry grass.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.