California town gets gold fever as would-be miners dig in sewers

It started as rumor: A couple of people ventured into the storm drains below the streets of Auburn, Calif., and struck gold.

Now town and police officials have a problem on their hands: Gold fever in the sewers.

Police have found several people in the drains digging for treasure. None of them were arrested -- and not one person has hit the jackpot, Auburn Police Chief John Ruffcorn said.

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But the would-be miners are causing a ruckus for the businesses above, where people can hear loud banging sounds from the storm drains, which can run a quarter-mile to 100 yards long.

People are also worried that the digging could destabilize the drainage system and cause the streets above to buckle, and maybe even collapse.

“It’s extremely dangerous,” Ruffcorn said, adding that it is “illegal.”

The extensive drainage systems do hold remnants from old gold mines -- clues to the town’s rich past. But it’s unknown whether anyone has actually found gold there recently.

Situated in Placer County, the town of about 12,800 residents is nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, roughly 33 miles northeast of Sacramento.

Scattered through the town are old Victorian buildings that once housed gold miners, their families and merchants during the Gold Rush era. The town’s Gold Country Fairgrounds was once home to a museum that paid tribute to its western past. Gold was processed in the historic Works Progress Administration building after it was removed from the mines.

“Everyone is coming to get rich quick,” said Ruffcorn, who said no one is going to find gold in the town’s storm drains.

Town and police officials are now working on limiting access into the drains to stop trespassers. But that won’t be easy, Ruffcorn said.

Some have suggest placing grates along storm drains, but that could present problems during the winter when authorities said the warm weather pattern known as El Niño could bring heavy rain.

“It’s kind of a Catch-22,” he said.

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