NORTH SAN JUAN (CBS13) – Firefighters say thieves drove right up to their valve, cranked it open and started pumping thousands of gallons of water into a truck.

Neighbors of North San Juan in Nevada County are outraged.

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“Water stolen here is just ridiculous; it’s a shame,” Sean Murphy said.

This theft cuts deep. Caleb Dardick says with the dry brush, the emptying of the tanks puts his family in danger.

“It’s absolutely terrifying. We count on our fire department to be ready and take care of us,” Dardick said.

It takes three to four days to fill the tanks back up. North San Juan neighbors are now waiting and hoping nothing happens until the 5,000 gallon drums are full again.

“If we get a wild land fire or structure fire in town, this is the water supply we have,” said Christopher Montelius with the North San Juan Fire District.

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On average, a family of four uses 400 gallons of water a day. The thieves took 8,000 gallons of water from the tanks – enough to quench a family for 20 straight days.

Neighbors want cameras or locks on the tanks. Volunteer firefighters say they are reviewing all options.

“We are looking into different measures like camera surveillance maybe patrolling the area a little bit more,” Montelius said.

If sheriff deputies are able to catch the thieves, the penalty could be more than a fine.

“If we have a wild land fire or structure fire and pull up and there’s no water, if someone gets hurt or killed in that fire there is going to be severe consequences” Montelius said.

This is not even the first time this has happened. Neighbors say a school near Camptonville lost six thousand gallons two months ago.

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Investigators believe the thief has to be someone with knowledge of water tank connectors and someone with a large enough truck to haul it away.