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North Coast aflame with fire season just heating up

  • Jessica Lee, left and Mike Martin of Cal Fire in Ukiah work hot spots on the edge of the Scotts Fire on Cow Mountain between Lake and Mendocino County, Tuesday Sept. 11, 2012. The two firefighters were part of the initial attack when the fire broke at last Friday. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2012

Fire season still has not hit its peak, yet the North Coast has been aflame for weeks with more than 100,000 acres scorched or still burning.

Waves of fires have torn through mostly remote and rugged terrain in wildlands such as the Mendocino National Forest and in dry grassland along Highway 101. Lake County has been nearly surrounded by fire, smoke and charred earth.

"We are having more large and damaging fires than we've had in the last couple of years," said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Ben Nicholls, who heads fire investigations for the Sonoma-Lake-Napa unit. "The fuels are ready to burn."

Scotts Fire 9.07.12

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The only good news is that no population centers have been threatened. That, however, is not much satisfaction to folks like Duane and Dorothy Furman, who have lived on Scotts Valley Road for about 50 years and Tuesday were within about a mile of the 4,618-acre Scotts Fire on North Cow Mountain in Lake County.

They were prepared for the worst, with their most important belongings packed into a horse trailer ready to go, Dorothy Furman said.

"It's scary, you're not real sure how the fire will move," Furman said.

The next six weeks will be critical on the North Coast with the land parched from summer and autumn winds picking up, said Ryan Walbrun, a National Weather Service incident meteorologist dispatched to the Scotts Fire.

"I was just looking out the next 10 days. There is no hope of any rain. In fact, it looks warmer and drier," Walbrun said. "There's no relief in sight."

A dry inland wind from the north was forecast for later this week, what Walbrun called a "disconcerting" prediction for a region hit with an outsized number of large fires before fire season peaks in September and October.

"We will be watching," Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said. "When you start getting winds, that's when we start to see erratic fire behavior."


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