Rocklin crew returns from Robbers Fire

By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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Hiking with 50 pounds of fire hose in 100 degree temperatures over rough and steep terrain doesn?t sound like a walk in the park. But for Rocklin firefighters fighting the Robbers Fire in the American River Canyon between Foresthill and Colfax, it?s what they?re trained to do. ?A lot of our guys train on wild land firefighting,? explained Rocklin Interim Fire Chief James Summers. ?We don?t have a lot of them in Rocklin. So when we get an opportunity like this to go and help out another agency in Placer County they are really excited about it.? A brush crew of three from the Rocklin Road fire station have returned after nearly a week with nearly 2,000 other firefighters from Cal Fire, Placer County and as far away as Los Angeles County. Rocklin firefighters were thrown into the action quickly as their first night was spent protecting threatened structures. ?It?s long days. We start at 7 in the morning until 7 the next morning,? Rocklin Fire Captain Robert Molinaro said. Molinaro along with firefighter Chris Wade and engineer Tony Silva hiked up and down steep terrain two to three times a day extinguishing hot spots along the southeast end of the canyon wildfire. ?There is a lot of undergrowth so it goes hot and fast. Basically, the fire is making a moonscape for us,? Molinaro said. Although they didn?t suffer any serious injuries, the trio dealt with strains and sprains as they worked an area near Bear Ridge Road and Mt. Lion Road. On the line they were given bag lunches, but at the end of their 24-hour shift they were served a hot meal ? cheeseburger, chili and pasta salad ? at base camp. The veteran Rocklin Fire crew is no stranger to wildfires as they helped to fight the 2007 Witch Fire that burned near San Diego and the 2008 Malibu Fire that burned million dollar mansions in Southern California. ?We were outside Jack Nicholson?s house protecting it, but he wasn?t there,? Molinaro said. Budget constraints have kept them close to home since then. But they welcome opportunities to train at live wild land fires. Rocklin firefighters helped out during the 2009 Highway 49 fire in Auburn as well as at other Placer County wild land blazes. The last serious wildfire to threaten Rocklin was the 2002 Sierra fire that destroyed 19 structures east of Sierra College Blvd and Interstate 80. ?It is always good training,? Molinaro said. ?With it being so vertical and dense here you see different fire behaviors - the way the wind affects the smoke, things like that.? Even as the bill for the 24-hour shifts is picked up largely by the state, Rocklin firefighters are determined to lend a hand anywhere in Placer County, even when the fire doesn?t threaten Rocklin homes. ?It is important that we can help out our neighbors because if we ever had a big incident like this in Rocklin we would definitely need assistance as well,? Chief Summers said. Summers said other Rocklin firefighters are prepared to help fight the canyon fire, if needed. ?We have a list of guys who are already signed up to take their place if it goes for another week,? Summers said. Fire officials expect the mop up operation to take months. Firefighters will be needed to monitor dangerous hot spots throughout the fire zone long after evacuees are able to return home.