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LEGGETT — The Lodge Complex fire is burning its way eastward through rural Mendocino County and showing no signs of retreat.

Strong, erratic winds, combined with the possibility of dry thunderstorms are increasing the fire’s threat to residents, businesses and the wilderness.

Heading into its 13th day, the blaze has burned 10,000 acres, is closing in on about 60 structures and forcing residents to seek emergency shelter.

While some residents in a half-dozen mountainous enclaves are seeking shelter with friends and family, many are choosing to stay put, and others are flocking to a nearby school-turned-evacuation center in Leggett, a town at the intersection of highways 101 and 1 with a population of just over 100 people.

Jeff Allen, 55, who owns a ranch just south of Leggett, was preparing his shelter area Monday afternoon at the Leggett Valley School. Allen said with flames growing closer, and smoke growing thicker, he and his wife plan to evacuate their home and animals. The couple packed their two vehicles with the essentials — important papers, family photos, tools and canning equipment for produce from their garden.

“I’m nervous as all heck. I can’t see a quarter-mile from my property,” Allen said, lifting his arm above his head, squinting to block his eyes from the thick smoke that filled the air. “How do you put 30 years into the bed of a pickup?”

The blaze has spread over 15 square miles since it started June 30, rolling across rugged mountains west of Highway 101 near the towns of Laytonville on the southern edge, and moving north to Leggett. Crews achieved 40 percent containment on the western edge of the fire, but flames broke through a fuel break on the eastern front, forcing firefighters to build new fire breaks by removing heavy timber and other debris on the fire’s perimeter to hamper further growth.

“We have seen containment, but the fire did jump our lines on some parts,” said Larry Pendarvis, a Cal Fire spokesman. “It’s always bad when it gets outside our line, but the wind, the hot weather and the terrain make fire jumping a very real possibility. Plus, the drought has just made everything that much worse.”

Crews continue to chop trees and remove parched vegetation — perfect fuel starters — by using bulldozers and hand tools in the steep terrain. They’re dousing flames with water from nearby wells and the Eel River.

“Our most vulnerable area is to the north (bordering Leggett), so that’s where we’re focusing our efforts,” Pendarvis said.

Crews are using 22 bulldozers and nearly 2,400 personnel with 186 engines to help fight the fire, including firefighters from as far south as San Diego through nearly every metropolitan region up to the North Bay. Helicopter pilots from the Air National Guard were on duty, as well as 875 low-level state prisoners.

“These guys are essential to the mission,” said D.J. Cisneros, a corrections officer with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations. “They’re the backbone of the operation. They do a lot of the grunt work.”

Seven firefighters from the Santa Rosa Fire Department have been helping combat the blaze since last Tuesday, primarily by helping to rebuild the broken fire lines. Fire crews also were busy removing potential hazards, such as fallen trees that could block roads and hamper efforts to get in or out of the fire zone, said Santa Rosa fire Capt. Jack Thomas.

North Coast killers on death row


Robert Scully
Age: 58
Year arrived: 1997
Crime: Murdered Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Frank Trejo

Richard Allen Davis
Age: 62
Year arrived: 1996
Crime: Murdered 12-year-old Polly Klaas

Ramon Salcido
Age: 55
Year arrived: 1990
Crime: Murdered seven people, including his wife and two daughters


Jerrold Johnson
Age: 54
Year arrived: 2000
Crime: Home invasion-murder of 76-year-old Ellen Salling

Gerald Stanley
Age: 71
Year Arrived: 1984
Crime: Convicted of killing two of his wives

“We are busy keeping the roads open, making sure people get in and out safely,” Thomas said.

Part of the Santa Rosa crew’s job, in addition to keeping roads open and building fire protection zones, is to protect homes should they become engulfed in flames.

“We’re focusing on making sure the fire doesn’t reach structures,” said Santa Rosa fire Capt. Marc Lagourgue. “So instead of fighting it from the structure, we’re trying to get ahead of it.”

So far, no structures have been destroyed.

Meanwhile, the possibility of thunderstorms in the afternoon could increase fire activity all week, and there are no signs of the flames letting up for at least two weeks, Cal Fire officials said. The fire grew from 8,700 acres Sunday night, when it was at 35 percent containment.

Evacuation orders remained in effect for sparsely populated mountain areas, including Camp Seabow, Elder Place, Tan Oak Park, Bald Mountain Ranch, Mad Creek and Elk Creek east of Brush Mountain.

“This is really scary,” said Linda Breckenridge, of Tan Oak Park, a community north of the fire, home to about 20 people. “I can feel the wind behind me, and that’s bad. That means the fire can shift up towards my house. You feel helpless.”

Breckenridge, who has lived in the area since 1979, said while wildfires are a regular part of life in rural Mendocino County, she has never seen one so large or smoky. The winds shifted Monday morning, pushing the flames to within two miles of her home.

“I’m totally packed, right down to my cat carrier,” she said as she leaned over the railing that wraps around the front deck of her home, her silver sedan parked out front, fully packed. “I’m looking through my papers and pictures, deciding which pictures to take.”

Korin Green, who lives a couple doors down from Breckenridge, said she has no plans to evacuate yet.

“We’re all very concerned up here, but I’m not planning to leave until I’m in imminent danger,” Green said. “I’m paying close attention though, because everything could change with a small shift in the wind.”

Along Highway 101 nearing the Red Cross evacuation shelter at Leggett Valley School, signs read “Stay safe firefighters,” and “Thank you firefighters.” Roughly 10 people have sought shelter there nightly, sleeping on cots in the gym since evacuations were ordered Friday. The Santa Rosa Salvation Army, as well as the Mendocino County health and social services departments were also on hand to help those seeking food or safety for their pets.

“This is making it easier for the people to get through the crisis,” said Richard Paige, a volunteer heading Red Cross efforts for Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties.

The firefighting cost and damages were estimated at $20.8 million. Eleven people, including eight firefighters, have been injured.

The Lodge Complex fire is one of 12 fires burning in California right now. More than 40,000 acres have been burned so far this year in more than 3,600 fires throughout the state, according to Cal Fire.

Staff Writer Paul Payne contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 526-8503 or angela.hart@pressdemocrat.com.

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