Local crews battle deadly fire

    Bodhi Rasmussen spent the summer battling Southern Oregon wildfires, and now as Thanksgiving approaches he has been thrust into one of the most destructive blazes in California history.

    “I’ve never seen this much complete leveling of houses,” the 40-year-old Phoenix resident said.

    Rasmussen is with Pacific Oasis, a wildland firefighting company from Ashland that sent a crew to the Camp fire in Butte County, California, north of Sacramento in the Sierra foothills.

    He arrived a day after the Nov. 8 Camp fire erupted. The blaze has now scorched 151,000 acres, with at least 77 deaths and 993 people listed as missing. The blaze wiped out most of the city of Paradise, which is about the size of Ashland, and destroyed 12,794 structures.

    Rasmussen fought the Klondike fire in Southern Oregon this summer, but he said the forest around Paradise is much drier.

    “There is absolutely no humidity, no moisture in the night,” he said. “And then the winds pick up at 10 p.m. This is a 24-hour battle. There’s no down time.”

    He said he would go to sleep outdoors on the Klondike fire and awaken to a heavy layer of dew. By contrast, there has been a complete lack of dew around the Camp fire.

    The forest has a lot more manzanita and madrone around Paradise, which provides a tremendous amount of fuel to feed the fire, despite the relatively mild temperatures, he said.

    “It just takes one little spark and the fire flies up the hillside,” Rasmussen said.

    Several local agencies have sent fire crews to help fight the Camp fire, which is about 66 percent contained, with full containment expected Nov. 30.

    On the first night, Rasmussen said, flames jumped the highway. He stared down a huge fire column in Yankee Hill, several miles southeast of Paradise.

    He’s currently helping secure properties near Big Bend, southeast from Paradise.

    While many homeowners are not being let back into their properties, Rasmussen said he and other firefighters are feeding animals and taking care of homes during the emergency.

    “Many of these people had no warning” he said. “They were just told to get out with the shirt on their back.”

    Visibility has improved over the past few days, and Rasmussen said it’s strange to look at such a dry, blackened landscape with the Feather River almost without water.

    By Friday, Rasmussen’s 14 days of fighting the fire will be over, and he’ll be heading home, missing Thanksgiving.

    His mother, Diana Rasmussen, a 72-year-old Phoenix resident, said she’s been worried about her son but realizes he’s doing an important job.

    “I’m so proud of him,” she said.

    Diana said the photos his son has sent to her have really brought home how devastating the fire has been.

    “It is strange that these photos look like they were shot in black and white, but they were in color,” she said. “It can just break your heart when you look at the images, particularly of the doll” — a picture of an armless doll sitting on top of burned-out debris.

    Diana said some of the stories from the fire have hit her harder because of the personal connection with her son.

    She said famed guitar maker Wayne Charvel’s shop was destroyed. Charvel has built guitars for Eddie Van Halen, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and others.

    Diana said she has worried many times about the potentially devastating effects a fire could have on this valley, remembering the 2010 Oak Knoll fire that wiped out 11 houses in Ashland.

    “I had a panic attack, she said.

    Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

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