Auburn blaze destroys 60 structures |

Auburn blaze destroys 60 structures

Liz Kellar, Trina Kleist and Dave Moller / The Union

Winds whipped a fire through dry grass and into neighborhoods in north Auburn on Sunday, burning 60 structures including multiple houses and commercial buildings before firefighters wrested control of the flames.

Highway 49 between Bell Road and Dry Creek Road is now open in the southbound lanes according to a Calfire volunteer Monday morning.

Residents of the Saddleback Estates neighborhood north of Dry Creek, which had been evacuated Sunday due to heavy damage in that area, are being allowed to return through Virginia Street, according to Daniel Berlant of Calfire.

The fire is about 50 percent contained, with many hot spots in the interior and more expected as the sun rises, according to Berlant. Full containment of the 275-acre 49er Fire is expected by Tuesday.

“There’s still containment lines to be built, but the forward progress of the fire has been stopped,” Berlant said.

Berlant and others were assessing damage Monday morning for residents and checking on area residents.

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While the remains of their homes glowed with flames, evacuees received dinner at two area elementary schools late Sunday. Others stayed with friends.

It was dubbed the 49er Fire for its location just east of Highway 49 – an uncomfortable reminder of the 49er Fire that tore through western Nevada County in the fall of 1988.

Investigators are still searching for a cause.

“The conditions here are just like in Nevada County,” Berlant said. “Everything is so dry, all it takes is a small spark to start a wildfire at this time. Your defensible space is crucial.”

Structures reported to have burned include the former Harley-Davidson store on Locksley Lane and houses in the Parkway neighborhood just northeast of 84 Lumber, off Dry Creek Road. Neighborhoods in Christian Valley also were affected.

Firefighting departments that already had committed engines to fires in Yosemite and Southern California were stretched thinner with the North Auburn blaze Sunday.

Currently on the fire are 51 fire engines, seven air tankers, six helicopters, 10 hand crews, two bulldozers and 300 firefighters, Calfire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

The grassland fire was reported at 2:22 p.m. at Rock Creek Road off Highway 49; by 2:41 p.m. the fire had jumped Locksley Lane and Shale Ridge Road and was heading toward Dry Creek Road. At 3:13 p.m., Bell Road was closed at Highway 49 and air tankers were called in.

At 4:15 p.m., the fire was estimated at 500 acres, and voluntary evacuations were under way north of Rock Creek Road.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for Saddleback Estates and another subdivision in Christian Valley.

At 5:30 p.m. officials were evacuating the Moss Rock Road area north of Auburn Municipal Airport, as the fire continued to burn to the northeast.

At 6:30 p.m., the forward progress of the fire had been halted, but firefighters still worked to put out fires at multiple structures, Calfire spokesman Darin Nelson said.