It has been more than a week since Mendocino County resident Greg Lohne left home, since the morning he awoke to smoke, ran to the neighborhood market for news and found himself barred from returning to his house outside Round Valley.
Lohne got special permission to retrieve his dog, J?e, two hours later, but has since been among dozens of evacuees headquartered at the Black Butte River Ranch Country Store and RV Park, waiting for clearance to go home.
Twelve days in, the North Pass fire is clearly taking a toll. Fire officials predict it will take them more than a week to contain the 34,119-acre blaze.
Some folks are getting testy, between the soot-filed air, closures of critical routes and roads crowded with fire and earthmoving equipment.
Four homes and seven outbuildings have been destroyed, and officials said Wednesday the fire still posed a threat to 64 homes, five commercial buildings and 65 outbuildings.
Scores of residents have been evacuated from inside the fire zone, many with little time to prepare. Most came from Indian Dick Road and Mendocino Pass Road/Forest Highway 7. Dozens are staying at the Black Butte River Ranch, at the edge of the Mendocino County National Forest and the fire zone.
Friends from Covelo and Round Valley loaned Lohne a tent, clothes and cash. His construction tools were left behind, so he has been unable to work.
"There's people down here with no clothes or anything," Lohne said by phone Wednesday. "It's crazy."
"It's definitely weighing heavy on everybody at this point," said Margie Garcia, who owns the Black Butte complex with her husband, Tom Oschsner. They have welcomed all comers, some sleeping in their cars.
Garcia has been serving morning coffee and group dinners, thanks in part to contributions of food from folks in town. She said the evacuees "are really anxious to get back up to their place to see if they still have a place."
Authorities hope to lift evacuation orders late this afternoon if all goes well, Mendocino County Sheriff's Capt. Kurt Smallcomb said.
The wildland fire is only 28 percent contained, but the 1,900 firefighters working the blaze have focused on securing defensive lines and clearing hazards near residential areas in hopes of reopening neighborhoods, Forest Service spokesman Ralph Gonzales said.
A few people have been notified of damage to their property. Authorities are still trying to verify ownership of others. That's difficult because many properties have no street numbers, Gonzales said.
"We know that one of our neighbors thought he lost his house, and it turned out he lost everything but his house," Garcia said. "He had an outhouse building and a little shed and generator room, and all of that got burned to a crisp."
Inland Mendocino County, from Covelo to Ukiah, was blanketed in a smoky haze Wednesday, prompting air quality officials to issue warnings. Air pollution reached hazardous levels in the Covelo region. Winds have pushed the smoke as far south as Cloverdale and east to southern Lake County.
In Round Valley, vehicles often have a layer of soot in the morning, said Fred Burrows, fire management officer with the Round Valley Indian Tribes' Natural Resources Department.
"If that's on my car, it's in the air. That's what you're breathing in," Burrows said. People also are worried about the damage to the forest and congestion from nearly 2,000 firefighters passing through Covelo when school resumes, he said.