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One remains hospitalized from Lincoln fire

Wind-driven blaze chars 65 acres
By: Jenna Nielsen, Journal Staff Writer
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One of two Cal Fire firefighters hospitalized in the UC Davis Medical Center’s burn unit after being overcome by a June 11 blaze in Lincoln was released Monday. “He’s recuperating at home in Roseville right now,” said Bill Mendonca, a battalion chief with Cal Fire. Another Cal Fire firefighter, who sustained a small percentage of third-degree burns at the Nicolaus fire, remains at UC Davis, but is expected to be released in the short future, Mendonca said. A third firefighter, a volunteer with Cal Fire/Placer County who suffered minor facial burns, was released from Sutter Roseville Medical Center on June 11. The three firefighters suffered serious but not life-threatening burn injuries after a burnover caused by a sudden wind shift overtook the crew and their engines. The identities of the firefighters had not been released by Wednesday afternoon. The 65-acre fire began at approximately 9:50 a.m. June 11 and burned empty rice fields and a stand of eucalyptus trees near Ross Hay Ranch off Nicolaus and North Dowd roads in Lincoln. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and Lincoln Fire Department crews responded to the scene and the blaze was completely contained by noon. “In this particular situation the firefighters were getting to a point where they could start fire attack,” Mendonca said. “The wind accelerated and the fire spread to their position and they got caught off. They were in a position where they couldn’t go forward and they couldn’t go backward. Their engines were damaged to the point where they no longer could operate and they had to abandon ship, basically.” Jeff Brand, battalion chief with Cal Fire, said the fire engine was specifically designed for wildland fires. “The rig is destroyed,” he said at the scene Wednesday. Brand said other engine companies on the scene came to their aid and initiated patient care. “Obviously, when we have firefighters burned, it’s very emotional,” he said. The high winds coupled with low humidity make the likelihood of a burnover increase, Mendonca said. “The fire is pushed closer to the ground and it preheats the fuel outside of the fire,” Mendonca said. “The preheating drives the fuel and the fire can much more rapidly accelerate through the grass. You can have 10 to 15 acres of ground that gets preheated and the first ember to fall on it lights it up all at once – like a backdraft in a house.” In Lincoln, because the lands are mostly flat, the heat is more oriented to the ground, he said. Even the most seasoned fire veterans can still become trapped. “Based on past experience and training you can try to avoid it, but you can’t avoid it all the time,” Mendonca said. “It is a rare occurrence and hopefully it continues to be a rare occurrence in Placer County.” The cause of the fire is under investigation. – The Lincoln News Messenger’s Cheri March contributed to this report. Jenna Nielsen can be reached at jennan@goldcountrymedia.com.