Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Too Close for Comfort

A large plume of smoke drifted above El Dorado County this afternoon. We first saw the smoke as we drove through the town of Plymouth in Amador County on Highway 49.

Just after the top-of-the-hour news at 3 p.m., I struggled to locate a news story on the radio. All I heard on KFBK NewsTalk Radio were the words "evacuation" and "El Dorado County Fair Grounds."

In my haste to find news, I had neglected to leave the radio dial on one station. The tail end of the story did little to comfort me.

Once we drove into our driveway, I realized the fire was burning in the area between Big Cut and Coon Hollow roads, along the east side of Highway 49.

Although my neighborhood was safe, some 50 to 60 homes were threatened by the 49er Fire according to CBS-13.

Sheriffs deputies evacuated 15 homes in the area. An additional 45 homes fell under a voluntary evacuation. The fire was contained sometime after 5:30 p.m. It burned around 30 acres.

Cal Fire Helitack 404 pulls skyward after dipping its water bucket into a local pond. I took my first photo at 3:24 p.m. and continued aiming my telephoto lens at the two helitacks working the fire for 45 minutes.

Helimax Aviation Helitack H-516 drops needed moisture on the 49er Fire just before 4 p.m. Both helicopters shuttled water between the pond and the fire for over an hour. During the six-minute round trip, the helicopters flew in a counter-clockwise pattern.

The Bell 214B1 is stationed at the Big Hill Helitack Base in Eldorado National Forest. Although two Cal Fire air tankers circled above the helicopters, I didn't see them drop any retardant on the fire.

The contractor-operated Bell Helicopter lifts up through the trees after filling its water bucket. Each pilot approached the pond from a different angle. The Helimax pilot flew straight into the pond from the north, filled the bucket and continued along his southern track as he lifted his load out of the pond.

In contrast, the Cal Fire pilot pivoted himself northward before he glided down to the pond. He approached the pond from the south. Helitack 404 was then oriented toward the fire as he gained altitude and headed for the fire.

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