Fast moving fire threatens China Spring youth camp |

Fast moving fire threatens China Spring youth camp

Merrie Leininger

A brush fire that burned about 250 acres by 4 p.m. was still growing Tuesday night as more firefighters were called in.

The fire started near China Spring Youth Camp at 2 p.m. and spread fast in high winds, threatening residences in the Double Springs area.

The 40 juvenile offenders and 10 employees of China Spring were evacuated within 45 minutes of the start of the fire, but returned to the camp about 6 p.m.

Sierra Front Wildfire Cooperators Coordinator Ronna Hubbard said much of the acreage the fire burned was Bureau of Indian Affairs land, but the Bureau of Land Management is responsible for fighting fires on it.

Hubbard said an incident command post was being set up at Douglas High School Tuesday evening to provide an area for firefighters to get food, to sleep and shower overnight. About 40 Sierra Front crew members would prepare food and set up camp.

Hubbard declined to speculate about the cause of the fire, saying it was under investigation. Sgt. Lance Modispacher of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said the fire was caused by lightning.

Hubbard said the last update she heard at about 4 p.m. was the fire had grown to 250 acres and “moving rapidly” toward Highway 395 and the homes near it.

Helicopters, a scouting plane, a plane carrying retardant, a bulldozer and four hand crews had been called out from Sierra Front. Modispacher said nine smoke jump crews and eight to 10 structure fire engines had been called in.

“Right now, we’re working the flank and trying to control it from moving toward China Spring as a precaution,” East Fork Fire Marshal Steve Eisele said at about 3 p.m. But the wind was moving the fire east, away from the camp, and over a hill toward the highway and a row of houses along the highway.

A resident of the area, whose trailer was on land about 100 feet from the fire, but north of the path of the flames, said he was not worried about his home, but he was trying to help nonetheless.

“I was trying to cut a fire break if I could,” said the man, who refused to identify himself. He said he had a bulldozer, but didn’t have any firefighting experience. “It was on-the-job training.”

Eisele said firefighters had to pull the man out after a while, because the fire was spreading too quickly and the man didn’t have any protective equipment.

Modispacher said the sheriff’s deputies were going door-to-door and asking them to leave the area, just to be on the safe side.

On the other side of the hill, Jolie Lane runs parallel to Highway 395 near an Indian beadwork shop. Residents and land owners were nervously watching smoke pour over the ridge.

Jane Tipton, a secretary with the sheriff’s office, was sitting in her yard with her boss, DCSO Deputy Chief Robert Wenner.

Tipton said she and her husband, Ron, had just moved into their new home three months ago from the San Diego area.

“We lived in the city, so we never had to deal with this problem. This is what we’ve always wanted and now it’s jeopardized,” she said.

She said they chose the area because of the pinon trees that surround her house on 5-1/2 acres, but now she felt she needed to cut some of them down to create a safer area around her home.

Just down the dirt lane, Andy Zoppi and Rick Bertucci were working on getting Bertucci’s boat out of the area.

“I figured it would be the easiest thing to get out, so I might as well do it now,” he said.

But Zoppi said he wasn’t concerned, as long as the wind didn’t shift.

“I’m one of those guys that says, no, not until I can see the white of their eyes,” Zoppi said. “But if the wind was coming this way, you bet I’d be packing up my things and leaving.”

Bertucci, who owns land in the area, but not yet a home, said he was upset that it took too long for air tankers to arrive.

“I’d be heart-broken if my land was burned,” he said. “I want to know why they wait so long to send in the bombers. I watched it burn for an hour and a half before the first plane went over.”

Hubbard denied that.

“We had multiple fires going and had other tankers on that, but we had tankers on this on almost immediately. It’s got three on it now,” Hubbard said.

Zoppi said he has been working on clearing land around his house and will now also be installing a 1,000 gallon water tank.

“If we had 1,000 gallons here, we could save a structure,” he said. “You live in the woods, this is what can happen. A lot of people don’t want to (clear their land) because they like their big, bushy trees.”