The search for an armed and dangerous gunman in the rugged forest outside Fort Bragg entered its fifth day Wednesday with a multi-agency force bent on bringing the manhunt to an end.
But Mendocino Sheriff's Capt. Kurt Smallcomb said early Wednesday that authorities were hoping for a lucky break in their effort to locate a single man in miles of untamed woods.
"We need a break," Smallcomb said. "We haven't had a break."
An average of 30 deputies, officers and others have been combing the woods each day since Fort Bragg Councilman and former Mayor Jere Melo was gunned down Saturday as he and a companion looked for illicit pot grows in private forest for which he was manager.
They're following trails that look large enough to have been created by humans, and not just game; checking in at unoccupied hunting and weekend cabins to see if anyone might have sought food or shelter there; and trying to keep everyone safe from a man known to be violent, Smallcomb said.
An added concern, Smallcomb said, is the recent start of deer season, which means hunters in the trees who could put those searching at risk and could be at risk themselves.
The ground force includes sheriff's deputies, Fort Bragg police, federal marshals, FBI agents, Department of Justice officers and armed Cal Fire prevention officers. Search dogs were in use, as well, Smallcomb said.
Additional personnel are working the command post strategizing and planning the search. Others are out and about seeking intelligence elsewhere about suspect Aaron Bassler, an apparently disturbed Fort Bragg native Melo and his friend encountered that day about four miles east of town.
The friend, whose name was not released, recognized Bassler, 35, as the man who opened fire on them, firing multiple shots at Melo before the companion fired back and ran away, flagging down a ride with a follow-car to the well-known Skunk Train.
The Skunk Train resumed operations Tuesday despite the continuing search.