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McCan Fire

ASHLEY SMITH • TIMES-NEWS A Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, that carries 3,000 gallons of fire retardant and are flown by the U.S. Air Force, makes a drop on the McCan Fire near homes northwest of Fairfield on Thursday August 8, 2013.

FAIRFIELD • Sporadic winds whipped flames just out of firefighters’ reach, threatening homes and jumping roads Thursday just north of Fairfield.

The McCan Fire first lit up near the Soldier Mountains on Wednesday evening, when six lightning strikes hit the ground. Four of them sparked fires, but only two forced firefighters to forgo sleep and battle flames.

By Thursday, the fire had blown up to 5,000 acres and almost completely surrounded Soldier Mountain Ranch.

The blaze hadn’t damaged any area cabins or houses. The flames crept across parts of the golf course, however.

“The fire is moving fast, and it hasn’t stopped,” said Incident Commander Chris Anthony of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. “Thankfully, we’ve had enough air resources to help us out.”

Among the firefighters’ fire suppression resources were two C-130 planes holding special equipment used to drop large amounts of fire retardant.

The equipment — known as the Modular Airborne Fire Firefighting System — is used to drop 3,000 gallons of retardant, all at once or in quick spurts around a fire.

“This is an elite group,” said Jodi Mallozzi of the U.S. Forest Service. “There is only a handful of them from different parts of the country.”

Flying sometimes as low as 300 feet above ground, the planes roared over Soldier Mountain Ranch, protecting homes defenseless against the flames.

Ranch owner Nancy Hallowell said she woke up in the middle of the night to find the slope outside her window crawling with flames. She and her husband spent the rest of the night digging a line with a dozer to stop the flames from encroaching any farther.

By Thursday, the flames moved north of her ranch. Smoke swirled between the wheat and alfalfa fields, and Hallowell’s husband was still digging lines to protect their crops.

“We got about two hours of sleep last night,” she said. “We’ve had other fires before, but never this close to us.”

Jerry Craven, who owns another area ranch, also was outside watching the fire grow and move with the wind.

“The flames got on the edge of my ranch,” Craven said. “It’s looking good now, but you never know with the wind.“

The wind refused to quit, just as it had through Wednesday. As the wind radically switched its directions and force, firefighters fought to maintain fire lines as the blaze threatened to jump roads.

The smoke from the fire was just as intense. At times, the haze created a solid sheet of blackened sky.

“With this heavy of smoke, it makes it hard to be precise with aircraft,” said Mitch Silverster, BLMengine captain.

The blaze was expected to be contained by 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10, and controlled by 8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 12, the BLM reported Thursday night.

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