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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Kayakers start bailing to stop brushfire

Paddler bucket brigade extinguishes brushfire at Lake Clementine
AUBURN – What began as a relaxing Saturday paddle on Lake Clementine turned into a brushfire fight for our small group of kayakers on Saturday (3/10).  We paddled up the lake to the first riffle on the North Fork of the American River and were headed back toward the dam when we smelled smoke after 1 p.m.

A mile or so beyond the rocky outcropping known as Robbers Roost, we could see smoke rising through the trees. Then flames appeared in underbrush near the shore. Someone had
failed to completely extinguish a small fire, perhaps after they heated up a meal in tin cans. Afternoon winds must have fanned the embers back to life, and there was plenty of dry fuel nearby.

Luckily, the flames were close to water
Credit NorCal Yak pal Shirish for quick thinking. He reached the spot first, then used a soft-sided cooler bag as a water bucket. Others used hats to carry water. Luckily, the flames were less than 20 feet from the lake, and the fire had not climbed into the trees. It took about 10 minutes to extinguish the fire, but had we arrived a few minutes later, it might have been a different story. The area did not seem to be very accessible from the ridge, and the canyon walls blocked cell phone reception.

Traffic was fairly light on the lake, but we noticed several people fishing from the shore and in boats. A sign at the marina warned against campfires due to extreme fire danger.

We didn’t see any park rangers in the area. (Lake Clementine is part of the Auburn State Recreation Area.) That wasn’t a big surprise, given park budget cutbacks and an off-season weekend.

But a close call, for sure. And a reminder that even if we get more rain and snow in coming days, this dry winter still poses a real fire danger.

Message from Roy Stearns, Deputy Director, California Department of Parks and Recreation: “Big thanks to the folks who put out the fire…and a bad-guy award to the ones who left it smoldering.  Very glad your folks were there and took action.  In this time of budget cuts and no personnel, all of us must take responsibility for our outback areas if we wish for them to survive...Thanks!”

© Glenn Brank, 2012