A deadly Redwood Valley fire has caused at least two fatalities with more deaths expected and Monday night the blaze was spreading toward Willits, forcing more evacuations, according to a Mendocino County sheriff’s official.
By Monday night the fire had reached an estimated 19,000 acres, up from 4,500 acres in Redwood Valley as of Monday morning. The burned areas included parts of northern Potter Valley, northern Redwood Valley and offshoot roads, and flames now are threatening areas including Pine Mountain Estates south of Willits and a strip of area near Adventist Health Howard Memorial Hospital in Willits, said Mendocino County sheriff’s Lt. Shannon Barney.
The second fatality was confirmed later Monday. Both deaths occurred in Redwood Valley and sheriff’s officials declined to release any details but said more are expected due to the fast‑moving blaze that struck at night as people slept in the rural area.
“We are anticipating multiple fatalities,” said Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Van Patten.
An early estimation included 75 homes destroyed, according to fire officials.
The heaviest destruction was in the northern end of the valley. The fire leveled blocks of homes and businesses, said Van Patten, comparing it to the devastation in Middletown during the 2015 Valley fire. “That’s what we’re looking at right now.”
The fire at its start was spotted about 1 a.m. by a sheriff’s sergeant on patrol in northern Potter Valley near Hawn Creek Road. The sergeant reported severe wind gusts with trees and power lines falling. The fire took off up a hill, crested and swept down into northern Redwood Valley in one direction and also into Potter Valley.
Once firefighters found the extent of the blaze, sheriff’s officials launched the automatic phone notice for residents to evacuate, but the fast-moving fire got ahead of the calls in some areas, Van Patten said.
“We tried our best we could to get to everybody. Some, by the time they got it, it was literally at their door,” he said. “We heard stories of people getting out just in time.”
As well as the fatalities, at least two people suffered serious injuries, according to Cal Fire. Further details weren’t released.
Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman, on his way back to Mendocino County from Las Vegas, declared a state of emergency in the county due to the Redwood Valley fire.
Evacuations included Redwood Valley spreading up offshoot roads including Tomki Road at the north end. Deputies later Monday also issued an evacuation warning for the hospital neighborhood as well as Lake Van Artsdale Dam area north of Potter Valley, Barney said.
“It’s moving quite a bit. The last word we heard was it was close to 19,000 acres,” the lieutenant said. Sheriff’s officials Monday night were trying to get a sense of how many people had evacuated.
Cal Fire officials were arriving Monday night to help coordinate the firefight and law enforcement mutual aid was arriving from Humboldt County and local police departments.
Evacuations remained in place in Redwood Valley and areas of Potter Valley and Golden Rule. Shelters were open at Ukiah and Willits high schools, Ukiah fairgrounds for people and animals, and the Ukiah animal shelter is taking animals.
The fire started north of Highway 20, west of the Mendocino National Forest, south of Black Bart. The fire at one point crossed Highway 101, heading up the Willits grade. Road closures were at Highway 101 and Ridgewood Grade, and Redwood Valley to Black Bart in Willits.
One person was arrested in Redwood Valley on Monday, suspecting of looting a home, Van Patten said. Additional deputies were assigned to patrol burned areas because of concerns of looting.
Several local fire agencies Monday afternoon were working the fire, totaling 410 people with 26 engines.
You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter@rossmannreport.