The first reports came in Saturday morning Aug. 3 at 3:15 a.m. Residents in a remote area of Morgan Territory Rd. smelled smoke. Then the next call came in and the next and the next.
“Residents were calling the fire house even before dispatch got it,” said Cal Fire Deputy Chief Mike Marcucci. In all, there were more than a dozen separate fires reported within minutes of each other.
“It’s difficult to know exactly how many because they were so close together they merged into three big ones,” Marcucci explained.
Cal Fire investigators have not determined the cause of the fire.
“We know it’s human caused, either accidental or intentional,” Marcucci said. Arson has not been ruled out.
First reported were five separate small fires on Morgan Territory that burned five acres. The rest stretched along Marsh Creek Rd. from Bragdon Rd. to Deer Valley, charring 757 acres.
Area residents were under a shelter-in-place order until 9 p.m. that evening. Marsh Creek remained closed through Monday for mop up.
More than 300 firefighters battled the blazes, which were 85 percent contained by Saturday night. Two firefighters went to the hospital for heat-related injuries not considered life threatening. No structures were lost.
Nichole Cook, a resident at the Clayton Palms Mobile Home Park, woke up to banging on her door and the dogs barking.
“I opened the door and could smell smoke. I stepped outside and could see the hills were on fire.”
Cook hustled her two children and the dogs into her car and drove through the park honking to alert her neighbors.
“My youngest son was really scared and crying. I tried to calm him and told him we were gonna be ok and we’re gonna be at grandma’s in just a couple minutes.”
The park was briefly evacuated but residents were allowed to return a few hours later.
Residents in the Morgan Territory/Marsh Creek area are getting used to living with the threat of fire.
The last big fire was almost exactly one year before when the Marsh Fire burned 125 acres and destroyed one home.
Area residents have been proactive in creating defensible space and communicating with each other. More than 100 neighbors attended a fire season preparation meeting in May with officials from fire agencies, PG&E and the County Office of Emergency Services.
Many residents were alerted of the shelter in place order in a 5 a.m. text from OES.
In an area where Internet and cell service can be sketchy, officials encourage residents to have a land line in case of a power outage and to register their phones with the Office of Emergency Services. Register online at cwsalerts.com/registration