7 firefighters hurt battling NorCal's Rices Fire

CAL FIRE: Firefighters suffered heat illness-related injuries amid strenuous conditions and treacherous terrain


Rosalio Ahumada
The Sacramento Bee

NEVADA COUNTY, Calif. — Firefighters on Thursday morning had stopped forward progress on the Rices Fire burning in northwest Nevada County, but the evacuations of a few hundred residents remained, Cal Fire officials said.

The wildfire, which has burned 904 acres over three days, had not grown overnight, said Mary Eldridge, a spokeswoman for the Cal Fire Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit. Firefighters had 12% of the fire contained and had stopped the flames from spreading into neighboring Yuba County.

She said the initial attack on the Rices Fire and the work firefighters had done under “strenuous conditions” and “treacherous terrain, climbing around rocks to dig out fires” had given them the upper hand.

“Now, it’s time to tighten the lines around the fire. They’ve stopped forward progress,” Eldridge said.

Seven firefighters have been injured — all had suffered heat illness-related injuries such as dehydration, Eldridge said.

Overnight fire activity was minimal, but officials spotted some flames caused by rolling material from higher areas that ignited additional vegetation, according to Cal Fire’s Thursday morning update. Cooler weather and increased humidity overnight aided firefighters.

In a Wednesday evening update, Nevada County Sheriff’s Capt. Sam Brown said four zones in the area remained under mandatory evacuation orders, which included an estimated 300 residents temporarily displaced from 250 homes.

Five zones in Nevada County and two zones in Yuba County remained under an evacuation warning. Brown said sheriff’s officials had been discussing with Cal Fire officials when it would be safe to allow residents to return to their homes.

“We’re trying to gauge the safety of people moving back in and not having to send people back out,” Brown said.

Evacuation centers are open at the Madelyn Helling Library, 980 Helling Way, Nevada City; and for animals at the Nevada County Fairgrounds, 11310 McCourtney Road, Grass Valley. Brown said about 10 people were staying at the library on Wednesday, and 118 animals were being cared for at the fairgrounds.

The fire, which began about 2 p.m. Tuesday near Rice’s Crossing Road in the North San Juan area, has destroyed four buildings, which included one central building and three nearby outbuildings.

Cal Fire Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit Chief Brian Estes has said the Rices Fire began with a burning uninhabitable building, which spread to nearby vegetation. He said the cause of that structure fire remained under investigation.

Officials initially estimated firefighters would fully contain the fire by Friday, but Estes on Wednesday called that an “optimistic” goal. Cal Fire now expects to have full containment of the fire by Sunday. But the area was “far from being out of the woods.”

The weather forecast for Thursday expected the wind to shift from an easterly direction to come from the southwest, with gusts up to 20 mph that could reduce visibility on the ground due to smoke, according to Cal Fire. But cooler temperatures and increased humidity will continue to help firefighters as they stamp out hot spots, install hand lines and strengthen containment lines.

©2022 The Sacramento Bee. Visit sacbee.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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