Cache fire’s environmental damage prompts Clearlake state of emergency
A day after hundreds of residents in Clearlake and the neighboring town of Lower Lake fled for their lives as the fast-moving, wind-fed Cache fire engulfed homes, destroyed or damaged trees, vehicles and infrastructure, emotions remained high.
For some, though, the fear had turned into anger and frustration.
Don Shae repeatedly returned Thursday to the intersection of Dam Road and Lake Street where a roadblock kept him from accessing the rural neighborhood where the Cache fire wiped out a mobile home park and several other properties.
Authorities said the blaze, which began Wednesday in the Lake County city about 50 miles northeast of Santa Rosa, destroyed 56 homes and 81 outbuildings, as well as 158 vehicles and 30 telephone and power poles.
Stretching east along Dam away from Highway 53, some of the destruction was about a quarter mile from the intersection where the 70-year-old Shae stood on Thursday, but he wasn’t concerned about that.
He said he could see the area where he lives, which is surrounded by tall, green trees that were untouched by the flames, and he demanded to be allowed in.
“I don’t live in the area that was destroyed, so why can’t I get in?” Shae said moments after being turned away at the roadblock. “I don’t understand. I just don’t understand. Nothing’s burning anymore.”
Clearlake officials, though, approved a state of emergency declaration on Thursday, citing environmental dangers caused by the blaze. The designation will allow the city to seek financial help from the state and the federal government.
As a result, officials said, it might take some time to repopulate the evacuated areas due to the dangers left in the wake of the fire.
“There's a significant amount of dust particles that are contaminants that we don't want our folks to be in... So, there are a lot of steps to repopulation of any community and the No. 1 issue is the safety of those folks getting in and out,” Lake County Fire Protection District Chief Willie Sapeta said during a Thursday night update in Clearlake City Council Chambers.
“We're going to have resources there for the next few days — fire equipment coming in and out and so we will keep you posted. We will do (repopulation) incrementally as those areas become safe. We will do our best to get those areas reestablished and repopulated,” he added.
The fire erupted Wednesday afternoon at Sixth Avenue and Cache Street. As of Thursday night, it had scorched 83 acres and was between 35% and 40% contained.
“These are stark numbers for what was a relatively short fire in a small area. It was quite damaging,” Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin said during Thursday’s update.
The fire’s cause remains under investigation.
About 1,500 students and 200 staff were evacuated Wednesday from five schools that serve families in the Clearlake and Lower Lake areas. They will be closed on Friday.
Deep cleanings are being done of the schools, which are expected to reopen on Monday.
The majority of the destroyed homes were in two mobile home parks on the south side of Dam Road, Clearlake City Manager Alan Flora said. Another 10 to 15 homes on the north side of the road were also destroyed.
Creekside Mobile Home Park was destroyed and at least three units were destroyed at Cache Creek Mobile Home Park. Also destroyed was at least one building on property that separates the two mobile home parks.
Officials have notified 51 homeowners of their property losses, Flora said.
And some 712 residents remain evacuated as agencies continue to clear the affected neighborhoods of debris, downed power lines and hazardous materials.
“Parts of the city of Clearlake will remain under evacuation for at least a few days while cleanup continues,” Sheriff Martin said. “There was pretty extensive damage done to homes in the city’s jurisdiction, so it will be a few days before everyone can go home.”
He said as of Thursday there were still some hot spots, “and we want to make sure all of that is taken care of as well.”
There have been no formal missing person reports filed, and no fatalities, he added.
‘They won’t let us in’
By Thursday morning, all activity revolved around the short stretch of Dam Road. In other parts of the city normalcy kicked in and some streets that had been closed at the onset of the blaze were reopened.
Sitting in his pickup, Shae shook his head in frustration after being denied access to his home off Lake Street, where he’s lived about five years. And with no other choice, he returned to the nearby Walmart parking lot that had become a waiting place for homeowners eager to return to their properties.