Crews wait for the Basin fire to approach.

Middle Men: Cachagua volunteer firemen face fires in two directions. Fortunately, the Indians Fire has been contained, but the Basin Fire is blazing toward the dozer line.

The sky is blue to the northeast and smoky to the southwest in Carmel Valley. The haze gets darker in gradients, staining the July 2 horizon a nicotine brown.

A heli-base has materialized on the corner of Carmel Valley and Tassajara roads, at Cachagua Fire Protection District board president Bob Eaton’s ranch. A dozen firefighters from Los Angeles prepare to shove off while CFPD volunteers grab gear, griping that their own engine is embarrassingly vintage relative to the shiny L.A. model.

Officials have declared a fire evacuation advisory for Carmel Valley Road from Arroyo Seco Road to Tassajara Road; Tassajara to the Los Padres National Forest boundary; and Cachagua Road from Tassajara to Nason Road. But the Indians fire, for which the advisory was issued, is virtually contained. “The threat comes now from the Basin fire,” says CFPD spokesman Rod McMahon.

CFPD volunteers are encouraging residents to clear brush and remove combustibles around their homes, and make contingency plans for animals in case of a mandatory evacuation. Meanwhile, fire crews are waiting for the flames to creep closer.

“The fire will come to the containment lines, unless a tsunami or some other water-type cataclysm hits,” McMahon says. “It’s a matter of when, and that’s a matter of terrain, fuels and weather.”

McMahon estimates the Basin fire could reach the firebreak as soon as July 13. But he’s confident the dozer line– about six miles from the nearest homes– will keep the flames contained. “[Homeowners] shouldn’t be worried at all, really,” he says. “They should be wary.”

As of July 7, McMahon estimates the Basin fire is about eight ground miles to the southwest of the district and the Indians fire roughly 20 ground miles to the south.

Cachagua Community Park down Nason Road has become a temporary staging area for dozer operations. A smattering of fire crews and residents mill around in the 5pm heat as honky-tonk music blasts from a parked pickup. The sky above is a surprising cornflower blue.

Three out-of-town contractors horse around on top of the dozer. Randy Steinhoff of Minnesota gnaws on a bagel and declares, with a jerk of his thumb toward the mountains, “They’re lookin’ for al-Qaida up there.” His buddies crack up.

Tonight, the three will work a shift expanding the firebreak between the Big Pines campground and the coast. Until then, there’s not much to do but wait.

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A gray-haired woman in a visor pulls a kid on a tricycle. A tall, thick-necked man wanders the park aimlessly. Asked if his house is OK, he shrugs and offers a weak grin: “If not, I’ll grab a hose.”

Back at the Tassajara heli-base, CFPD Captain Barry Powell says he hasn’t heard of any Cachagua evacuations. “Most people who live near the forest boundary have been there for a while,” he says. “They’re used to fires.”

The Marble Cone Fire burned through the region in 1977, and the Kirk Fire in 1999.

While firefighters from across the state converge on Carmel Valley to defend local homes, CFPD crews are asking Cachagua’s residents– particularly those near the park boundary– to be nice to visiting strike teams. “People don’t get a lot of traffic up there,” says CFPD volunteer Matt Hilliard, his soft voice dominated by the insistent mooing of cows. “We try to smooth things over.”

The firefighters’ strategy is to contain the flames rather than to fight them on steep terrain, Hilliard says. As of July 7, dozers have cleared a break line from the Arroyo Seco campgrounds to the coast.

For community meeting times and other information, contact Cachagua Fire Protection District: 659-7700, www.cachaguafire.com/basin_info.htm

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