By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER
An 80-acre grass fire that burned near the Diamond XX subdivision outside Copperopolis on Highway 4 yesterday is the season's most significant blaze so far, officials said.
Because two houses had clearance called defensible space around them, the flames encircled the structures but did not burn them.
The fire began about 5 p.m. Wednesday evening at the base of a PG&E pole on Highway 4, said Richard Imlach, Battalion Chief for California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The fire burned through the night and was not extinguished until late morning yesterday. Investigators don't yet know what triggered the flames.
"We've got to get up on the pole and check it out today," Imlach said.
Preventive steps taken by homeowners spared a couple of houses from the blaze. Imlach said the homes had 30-foot safe zones around them.
However, Imlach said, people need to be careful about clearing vegetation around homes. Equipment used during the hottest parts of the day between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. can ignite the brush it's supposed to be cutting.
Equipment-sparked fires are common there were two yesterday, Imlach said, though they were small and did no real damage. That's not always the case, though. Last year's Willow Creek Fire in San Andreas, which burned 400 acres, began when a homeowner just off Mountain Ranch Road was clearing brush on a riding mower.
Imlach said people should clear vegetation around their houses in the early morning or late evening, and always use equipment with a spark arrester.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Copperopolis Fire Protection District, one helicopter and the air attack from Columbia Air Base, eight hand crews from Baseline Conservation Camp, San Andreas Fire Protection District, Altaville Melones Fire Protection District, Murphys Fire Protection District and two dozers responded to the Copperopolis fire.