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Fire quickly subdued

Katherine Morris
Photo by Katherine MorrisAn airplane, barely visible through the smoke, makes a drop on a brush fire near Prosser Lakeview this week.
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Claudia Gibbens and several other Truckee residents got a hands-on lesson in fire fighting Monday afternoon, when a three-acre brushfire threatened more than a dozen homes in the Prosser Lake View area.

“I first spotted the fire from the freeway as I was driving back from Reno and thought, ‘Oh my God, that looks like it’s near Jackie’s [a friend’s] house,” said Gibbens, who was one of the first people at the scene.

After “breaking all speed laws” to get to her friends house, Gibbens stopped by another residence, where she knew there was a fully operational water truck.

“We immediately drove to the scene, starting connecting hoses and setting up ladders so we could water down the houses in the neighborhood,” she said. “It was scary. I was mopping up the fire with my sandals on and burned my feet. But we did what we had to,” she said

“Maybe in my life I’ll be a firefighter,” she joked.

Emergency crews first learned of the fire around 2:33 p.m., when a spotter at the Martis Peak fire lookout called to report seeing smoke and flames billowing up from in between the trees in the area.

Plumes of gray and black were also an unsettling distraction for motorists passing by the westbound weigh station on Interstate 80, as well as for staff at nearby Prosser Creek Charter School, which happen to be hosting more than 100 teachers for a back-to-school training – in a giant tent outdoors.

“It was definitely hard to pay attention when all you could see was smoke and with the fire bombers flying around overhead,” said the school’s Director of Development Barbara Ferrera.

Within minutes, multiple agencies had arrived on scene to tackle the blaze both on the ground and from above with helicopters.

Within an hour, around 3:30 p.m., the threat had been extinguished and the fire completely contained.

“There were no injuries sustained and only one structure sustained minor damage when its roof caught fire,” said Truckee Fire Protection District Captain Gene Welch.

Luckily for that particular homeowner, helicopter crews were quick to douse the embers that had blown on the wood shake roof before they could ignite the residence, located in the densely wooded subdivision.

A joint command from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention, the U.S. Forest Service and the Truckee Fire Protection District coordinated the efforts of the two 20-person hand crews, seven engines, a water tanker, dozer and helicopter at the scene.

Local fire crews from Donner Summit, Squaw Valley, North Lake Tahoe and Incline Village can also be credited with stomping out the blaze.

While the cause of the fire is still under investigation by CDF, many credit the quick response of crews to the spotters at the lookout post who first reported the fire.

“Incidents like this really demonstrate how valuable these lookouts are,” said CDF Captain Dean Levonian. “There’s a good chance we would have lost structures on Monday had it not been reported so quickly, particularly with the warm dry weather and the winds.”

Until recently, CDF, which operates the Martis Peak lookout, had been scrambling for volunteers to staff the post. However, thanks to additional fire suppression funding from the State, the lookout is able to have paid staff on daily during fire season.

“Year to year, we never know if we’re going to receive the funding, though, and it’s always a real fight,” Levonian said. “That’s why we’re always looking for volunteers who are interested in working up there for us.”


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