The Sand Fire has been kept at bay at 3,800 acres burned with 80 percent containment.
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About 50 people milled about the Ponderosa High School cafeteria waiting for an update Monday morning. Most were evacuees, waiting to hear whether roads had been opened so they could go home, wondering if they still had a home to go to. A few, including married couple Rick Ogden and Colleen O’Key, who the Mountain Democrat spoke to the previous day, already knew their home was gone.
A few minutes after 9 a.m., Cal Fire Battalion Chief Scott McClean announced the fire was holding steady at 3,800 acres — a number that, as of Tuesday morning, remained unchanged. Though it was 65 percent contained Monday, it jumped, according to a press release by McClean, to 80 percent Tuesday morning. On Monday, McClean said crews saw “virtually no flames” and it would likely be “a good day.”
Air tankers were “on-call” rather than in use consistently, as were helicopters — “a good sign,” McClean said.
There had been two minor injuries by Monday, he said, and the firefighters were “doing a great job.”
Evacuation orders began being lifted Monday, continuing to Tuesday, and road blocks were softened. By Tuesday at 7 a.m., evacuations remained in effect for Freshwater Trail, south of Vintage Trail; Flat Creek Road; Brinkwood Road; Painted Pony Road; Higgins Road; and Twin Rivers Road and all connecting roads. Evacuation warnings were still issued for Sand Ridge Road and all connecting roads. By 9 a.m., evacuation orders for Freshwater Road, Lone Barn Road including Moco Canyon Road, Bell Ranch Road and Twin Rivers road were lifted. Painted Pony and Dwyer Road were both still under the evacuation order.
Road closures were at Freshwater Road at Vintage Trail, Painted Pony Road, Dwyer Road, Lone Barn Road, Moco Canyon Road, Bell Ranch Road and Twin Rivers Road.
Tuesday morning, 515 structures were threatened, with 19 residential buildings and 47 outbuildings destroyed. Damage assessment was continuing, and more destroyed buildings could be found.
“Fire crews continue to strengthen established containment lines and extend mop-up further into the burned area,” McClean wrote. “Rugged terrain and hot, dry weather conditions remain a challenge.”
Resources had been released Monday evening for other incidents and more resources would be released throughout Tuesday. In the morning, there were still 116 engines, 33 water tenders, eight bulldozers, 54 hand crews and one helicopter assigned to the fire. A total of 1,617 personnel were still assigned.
After McClean’s announcements and answering questions about roadblocks, few people remained in the cafeteria. Most were either Red Cross or local volunteers.
In the kitchen, Janis Arambula of Placerville was encouraging everyone to eat breakfast. She heard of the fire Friday evening, but was unable to help until Saturday. On the evening news, she heard there were 450 new evacuees for a total of 600. She went over to Ponderosa High School to help. She returned Sunday at 7 a.m., “and worked until 9 p.m.”
She worked under Kari Guthrie of Placerville, who headed up the kitchen. Ladling gravy onto biscuits and trying to serve everyone in reach a plate of scrambled eggs, she said she “showed up as soon as I heard about the fire.” She only intended to stay and help for three hours, she said, laughing that it turned into a more permanent volunteer position for the fire. “The community help has been fabulous,” Guthrie said. After she posted to the El Dorado County Incident Information Post on Facebook, “volunteers came like flies. We had so many, we had to turn them away.”
Michael VanRy, who along with wife Andrea and children Jacob and Alyssa volunteered, chimed in. He said Raley’s and Walmart in Placerville had been a large boon. That morning, he said, he had gone to Walmart, spoke with an assistant manager and came away with boxes of food, all donated. Safeway, Starbucks, Jamba Juice, Pizza Guys, Placerville Co-Op and Back Forty BBQ all contributed throughout the fire, he said.
Son Jacob, 10, said he and his father also helped people move from the previous evacuation point, the county fairgrounds, to the high school. Since the fire began, they woke up at 5 a.m. to help. They donated food and time. “It’s cool to see the community come together,” he said, “to donate so much food. We’ve had six donations a day; people bring two or three bags of food.” Donations of clothes and bathroom supplies have also largely helped the displaced citizens. The younger VanRy also bought toys for two young boys, brothers, as it was something he would want someone to do for him in the same situation. “I can’t imagine having it happen,” Jacob said of having his own home burn, spurring him to help.
Ogden and O’Key said they had been dealing with the Red Cross since Sunday. “We lost our house,” O’Key said. “But people who don’t know? That’s heartbreaking. They have to sit and wait on pins and needles. At least we know.” She said they never received an evacuation order, and she had left home Saturday morning with the fire line being held a couple of miles away. At 2 p.m., Ogden called her at work with the news that he had escaped the house just before it burned down. “The fire will stop when it feels like it,” she said.
Brothers Mitchell and Macklin McSorley were among those unsure of the fate of their house, sitting in the nearly empty cafeteria, eating breakfast. “We were evacuated on Saturday,” Mitchell said. “We’re just waiting on updates.” Their home was right on the evacuation line, “right behind Pioneer Elementary,” he said. Now, they and their parents are staying with friends in Placerville until they can go home. “It’s not much of a strategy, but it’s what we got.” He said McClean seemed “pretty confident” that their home might be in the area where the evacuation order would be lifted later that day.
Cal Fire expected containment of the fire by Aug. 1. It determined the cause to be a vehicle on dry vegetation. CHP, the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office, the Amador County Sheriff’s Office, the California Office of Emergency Services, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, El Dorado County Animal Control, the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Department of Land Management, Department of Transportation, the California Conservation Corps, the Red Cross, PG&E, Cal Trans and numerous fire departments responded to the fire.