The explosive Mosquito Fire burning in the foothills east of Sacramento did not relent Thursday night, torching homes and forcing thousands of El Dorado County residents to flee.
The fire, which ignited Tuesday evening near the Oxbow Reservoir in Placer County, has grown to at least 23,000 acres, Cal Fire’s Nevada-Yuba-Placer unit said in an update just before 10 am Friday. The Cal Fire unit said aircraft have had difficulty accurately mapping the fire’s perimeter due to heavy smoke.
The blaze has continued to erupt in size, up from 13,700 acres reported Thursday evening and 6,900 acres that morning.
The Mosquito Fire is 0% contained, according to Cal Fire and the US Forest Service.
Georgetown, Volcanoville, Bottle Hill and Quintette were all ordered to evacuate, joining the Placer County town of Foresthill, as the blaze jumped the Middle Fork of the American River that afternoon. Mandatory evacuations were also ordered for Todd Valley, just west of Foresthill in Placer County.
The wildfire on Thursday made a 5,000-acre run south into El Dorado County. Cal Fire Amador-El Dorado Unit Chief Mike Blankenheim said the fire made “a hard uphill run” into Volcanoville before the wind pushed the flames east.
Blankenheim said structures were lost in Vocanoville, though the full extent of damage is unclear, as crews focus on getting the mammoth blaze under control.
Some 1,700 personnel were assigned to the blaze as of Thursday evening, according to Cal Fire. The Forest Service said more than 260 bulldozers are working the fire.
Sheriff’s officials just before 4 pm ordered the mandatory evacuation of Georgetown, a historic gold rush town of close to 3,000 people about 15 miles north of Placerville.
Areas including Garden Valley, Greenwood and parts of Cool remained under evacuation warnings Friday morning, meaning residents should be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice. Placer and El Dorado sheriff’s officials did not order any new evacuations overnight.
Evacuation centers have been established at Cameron Park Services District, 2502 Country Club Drive, Cameron Park; and at Bell Road Baptist Church, 77 Bell Road, Auburn. The Cameron Park center is an overnight shelter.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday evening declared a state of emergency for El Dorado and Placer counties due to the Mosquito Fire. The governor also declared a state of emergency for Fairview Fire in Riverside County.
Newsom announced Friday morning that the state secured a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to aid with fire suppression costs.
Residents flee raging wildfire
Roughly 250 people live in Volcanoville and another 100 in Quintet, both just south of the Middle Fork of the American River in El Dorado County.
Fred Marziano of Petaluma found out Friday his Volcanoville home had been spared after contacting a Bee reporter on Twitter and asking for information.
An RV, a vintage Mercedes-Benz, two steel shipping crates and a tiny home all survived when the Mosquito Fire roared up over the canyon Thursday afternoon and was hauled by a team of firefighters who dug a bulldozer between homes and ridgeline.
The fire came within 6 feet of the house but was halted by the dozer line.
“Oh, my God, this is amazing,” said Marziano, who has owned the property with his brother for 15 years, and who says he worked as a firefighter for four years and as a police officer for 30 years.
Forest Service firefighter Jason Miller said crews worked to save homes in the area for five hours Thursday afternoon and were working hard to save the Mercedes and a small outdoor shower at the home next door.
“We ended up putting a dozer line below the houses, and as the fire kept surging we had resourced staged on each house, saving the ones we could,” Miller said. “It was definitely a team effort.”
“We tried to save as much as we could.”
Firefighters were anticipating more flares up down the road, further west on Volcanoville, even if strong winds don’t materialize. The conditions are unpredictable, Miller said, keeping crews on their toes.
“The inversion’s set in right now,” Miller said, pointing to the sky on Thursday afternoon. “Give it a couple of hours and the winds pick up — that smoke lifts — and instability happens.”
Less than two hours later, that’s exactly what happened: winds whipped up again, pushing the fire over the 20,000-acre mark by midnight.
To evacuate Volcanoville, residents had to come down a paved one-lane road, and at one point had to cross a narrow one-lane bridge to get to Wentworth Springs Road. As the fire roared during the day’s high temperatures, there was a steady stream of vehicles, RVs and trucks pulling horse trailers on Highway 193 toward Highway 49.
“We’re like, ‘if our house goes up we can live in our trailer,’” said Josh Manzer, of Volcanoville, as he and his girlfriend evacuated Thursday. “We were just able to get our trailer. But we left our home.”
Volcanoville and Georgetown appeared largely intact as of Thursday night. Structure loss earlier in the day came via spot fires, including along Volcanoville Road, according to radio dispatch traffic.
Fire officials as of Thursday evening said the blaze was threatening 3,666 structures in the two counties. Cal Fire says this includes critical infrastructure in Placer County, such as the Sugar Pine Dam, Placer County Water Agency’s pump station and dam, large power lines, the Ralston hydroelectric powerhouse and cellphone towers.
In addition to structure damage in Volcanoville, some structure loss has also been observed in the Michigan Bluff area of Placer County, authorities said in a Thursday incident report.
Mosquito Fire smoke cloud visible for many miles
The Mosquito Fire on Wednesday and Thursday sent up enormous pyrocumulus clouds of smoke, at times resembling a mushroom cloud. Californians shared photos of the smoke to social media; some reported seeing it from as far away as the Bay Area.
The smoke continues to plague air quality, with a federal air monitor’s online map as of 6 am showing the worst pollution near Auburn, Placerville, and the entire Lake Tahoe area, especially South Lake Tahoe.
Spare the Air reports the Sacramento region will reach unhealthy levels Friday up until at least Monday, issuing an air alert Friday morning.
The AQI in Auburn reached hazardous levels at 420 due to particulate matter from the fire.
As of Friday morning, particulate matter levels were “Good” in downtown Sacramento and Arden Arcade, according to the Spare the Air alert. Roseville had reached moderate PM2.5 levels and Folsom had unhealthy levels.
“Air quality can change quickly at different times during the day due to wind shifts and vertical mixing,” Spare the Air wrote on its website. “If you see or smell smoke in your area you should stay indoors and avoid outdoor activities.”
Heavy near-surface smoke was blanketing the outskirts of evacuated Georgetown on Friday morning, spanning west through at least El Dorado Hills.
The National Weather Service in social media posts Thursday noted that large pyrocumulus clouds “can produce lightning and cause severe turbulence” — in extreme cases, such as the 2018 Carr Fire near Redding, creating a fire tornado.
Officials have not yet observed lightning or a “firenado” on the Mosquito Fire.
PG&E says equipment roped off by fire officials
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in a filing to state regulators Thursday morning said “electrical activity occurred close in time to the report time of the fire” on one of its transmission poles near Oxbow Reservoir.
“The (Forest Service) has placed caution tape around the base of a PG&E transmission pole (60Kv),” PG&E officials wrote in a filing to the California Public Utilities Commission. “Thus far, PG&E has observed no damage or abnormal conditions to the pole or our facilities near OxBow Reservoir, has not observed down conductor in the area or any vegetation related issues.”
The utility company, which has been ruled criminally responsible for sparking the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise and whose equipment was determined as the cause of last year’s nearly million-acre Dixie Fire in the Sierra Nevada foothills, wrote that it submitted Thursday’s filing “out of an abundance of caution,” as the electrical incident “involves an event that may meet the property damage reporting requirements.”
The Mosquito Fire’s cause remains under investigation by Cal Fire and the Forest Service.
Schools closed by Mosquito Fire
K-12 school districts with campuses near the raging Mosquito Fire announced closures for Friday.
All Black Oak Mine Unified School District campuses will be closed Friday, due to air quality from the wildfire, according to the district’s website.
Foresthill High School and Foresthill Divide School have been closed since Wednesday.
Forest Service announces large closure for rest of 2022
The Forest Service on Wednesday evening announced that a large portion of Tahoe National Forest, including the French Meadows Reservoir and the popular Western States Trail, will be closed to the public through at least the end of 2022.
The closed trail is the site of the annual Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, which starts in Olympic Valley and ends in Auburn. The race was run in June this year.
This story was originally published September 9, 2022 8:45 AM.