Despite warming temperatures and drier conditions, Cal Fire officials said they have all but contained the group of wildfires burning through heavy timber in northeastern Mendocino County.
“We’re looking good,” Cal Fire spokesman Larry Pendarvis said. “We’re confident that in the next week, we should have this completely under control.”
He said the blazes grew by less than 500 acres in the previous 24 hours and were 70 percent contained.
Several remaining evacuation orders were downgraded to warning status for the communities of Camp Seabow, Bowman Ranch, Hunt Ranch, Tan Oak Park, Elk Creek, Mad Creek, The Hermitage, Big Bend and Camp St. Michael.
A high-pressure weather system bringing warmer temperatures had descended on Friday and was expected to remain in the area the next few days, but officials said they did not expect it to affect firefighting efforts.
Still, Pendarvis said crews would continue to patrol outside the containment lines for any new spot fires that might develop.
“We’re still warning the public to be cautious and careful, especially when they are out in wilderness areas,” he said. “It’s still very dry.”
The fires, dubbed the Lodge Complex by Cal Fire, have now burned through 12,346 acres since they were started by a lightning strike during the early-morning hours of July 30 northwest of Laytonville and a second strike a few miles south of Leggett.
The fires grew to 5,000 acres during the first week with firefighters hindered by the difficult terrain, which was steep, dense forest. In remote areas, the lack of roads prohibited good access.
Crews thought they had a chance to contain the flames before they crossed the Eel River, but windy conditions and hot temperatures helped fuel the blazes, and the fires expanded by some 2,000 acres almost overnight.
They continued to grow steadily as evacuation warnings turned to orders and popular tourist spots in the fires’ path, including Big Bend and Leggett, prepared for the worst.
About 2,400 firefighters were battling the fire complex at its height Monday. On Thursday, there were 1,527 fighting the blazes. The cost of the effort so far has reached $32.8 million.
But this week, as cooler temperatures and a higher relative humidity prevailed, fire crews were able to solidify the containment lines. Containment has increased about 5 percent a day, Pendarvis said.
“We’ve had great success through the day,” he said about the effort Friday, adding that Cal Fire is beginning to send firefighting crews either back to their home districts or to fight other fires. “And we’re confident that will continue.”
You can reach Staff Writer Elizabeth M. Cosin at 521-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.