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‘Intense, quick’ Hopkins fire destroys homes, forces evacuations north of Ukiah

Joyce and Paul Kobetz had a sinking feeling Sunday afternoon when their security company called to say that the smoke alarms were blaring inside their empty Calpella home.

Moments after the alarm company called, a friend notified them that a fire was burning near their neighborhood.

The Kobetzes, who had driven their Jeep Grand Cherokee out to the Mendocino coast to escape the inland heat, had seen flames eating up the manzanita along the windy road that leads to their ridgetop home several times since they moved to Calpella in 2008.

But firefighters had always snuffed the fires out before they grew large enough to menace homes.

The close calls worried them. They feared that the house they built on one of the nine lots in the Marina Estates subdivision could someday be reduced to ashes.

On Sunday, it was.

“We were always afraid of a fire here because of all the fuel,” Joyce said. “All the trees are so dry.”

“Now we can live in our cars,” Joyce joked after a Press Democrat reporter confirmed that her house had burned.

Two Mercedes, a red one and a white one, sat in the couple’s driveway untouched by the flames.

The Kobetzes’ home was one of more than a dozen damaged or destroyed in a “very intense, quick” wildfire that burned through 275 acres Sunday, north of Ukiah.

The blaze prompted mandatory evacuation orders for at least 200 people — nearly a third of the town’s 682 residents (per 2020 U.S. Census Data) —as strong winds quickly pushed it east toward Lake Mendocino.

The blaze, named the Hopkins fire, was initially reported just after 2 p.m. in the area of Moore and East Hopkins streets in the unincorporated town of Calpella, located 6 miles north of Ukiah.

Hillside homes northwest of Lake Mendocino appeared to have shouldered much of the damage caused by the fire.

As for injuries, a firefighter was treated for overexertion and released later in the day, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Drew Rhoads said.

“It was a very intense, quick fire,” Matt Kendall, Mendocino County sheriff, said.

Among the factors that contributed to the fire’s fast spread were the low humidity and the dry, drought-stricken fuels in the area, said Cal Fire Mendocino-unit Chief George Gonzalez.

The fire’s boundaries were approximately Marina Drive north to Cortina Place flanked by East Side Calpella Road and the northwest side of Lake Mendocino, Gonzalez said.

Starting at the base of a hill, the blaze raced upward and pushed east toward Lake Mendocino, he added.

The National Weather Service said temperatures at the time the fire started were in the lower 90s with winds out of the northwest at 7-10 mph, with gusts up to 20 mph.

“When the fire was first reported … it went to a critical rate of speed, which is really fast,” Gonzalez said at about 6 p.m. “Right now, we are getting the upper hand on it. The fire has slowed down dramatically.”

The fire’s deceleration gave the large number of firefighters, dozers and aircraft overhead a chance to slow the fire’s progress, Gonzalez said.

“The temperature started to drop down and humidity increased, winds lessened and we got additional resources in for further fire suppression,” he added.

By sundown the blaze was 25% contained.

Firefighters planned to work through the night to reach “further containment and get roads all around the fire,” Gonzalez added.

By late Sunday, Cal Fire had no official tally of the homes burned in the blaze, but Rhoads believed the total was “in the double digits.”

Firefighters’ control over the fire led the Mendocinco County Sheriff’s Office to roll back mandatory evacuation to warnings Sunday night for a portion of the nearly 200 people who were told to flee their homes.

The initial mandatory evacuations spanned the area east of the Highway 101 corridor between Highway 20 and Lake Mendocino Drive to the west shore of Lake Mendocino.

Families with homes within the area of Lake Mendocino Drive from East Side Calpella north to Milani Drive were allowed to return home at about 9 p.m., the Sheriff’s Office said.

Part of the fire’s destruction included at least 10 homes along East Side Calpella Road north of Marina Drive, according to reports from the scene.

At least five more homes were burned farther east, on Lake Ridge Drive, where downed power lines and other debris were scattered across the road as spots continued to smolder Sunday evening.

More buildings were burned on streets that branch off Marina Drive.

Black smoke and the sound of crackling alerted Jeremy Griffin, who was outside his home along Moore Street, which is not far from the Russian River.

He said he and his family packed up there belongings and fled in a motor home that they’d parked about 100 yards west of their doorstep.

From the mobile home, they watched as flames burned along the Russian River and approached their property.

Griffin said the fire had consumed about 10 feet of his backyard, along with numerous trees, when a sudden shift of the wind turned the flames east away from his home.

“It was terrifying,” said Griffin, 49. “We didn’t know if it was coming this way or going that way.”

Griffin said he and his family continued to watch the fire burn and they could hear as the heat from the flames caused propane tank after propane tank to explode one after the other at other homes in their neighborhood.

Griffin added that his family would most likely park their motor home outside a relative’s place in Ukiah for the night.

Moore Street dead-ends at East Side Calpella Road, which runs parallel to the river. The fire destroyed numerous homes along East Side Calpella, south of the intersection.

It also destroyed one home on the north side of the intersection of East Side Calpella and Moore.

The house belonged to an older woman who evacuated her home, but did so without her birds, which were lost in the fire. They included finches, parakeets and parrots, according to her neighbor, Jon Orr, 46.

Orr did not evacuate and spent three hours hosing down his property Sunday afternoon. The only damage was to the fence separating his yard from his elderly neighbor’s, he said.

While he protected his property, his roof was being hosed down by Kim Lance, 52, the neighbor on his other side.

As they watched the destruction, both said the fire had them on edge.

“On a scale of one to 10, it was 20 or more. It was so close to my house,” Lance said, ranking her fear.

Flames reached approximately 20 feet, Orr said as he compared them to the height of a tree that survived.

They burned for about 20 minutes before firefighters arrived. It was another 30 minutes before an evacuation alert went out, the pair estimated.

“They’re short staffed,” Lance said. “We need more firefighters.”

Despite the losses, Rhoads said firefighters made “an amazing stop” on the blaze even with a decrease in resources due to crews assigned to massive wildfires elsewhere, including the Caldor and Dixie fires.

“We could have lost a lot more homes today,” he said.

Firefighters will likely be working to put out the fire until at least Wednesday, Rhoads said.

The cause is under investigation.

Gonzalez said details about what may have sparked the fire would likely not be released for several days.

An evacuation shelter was set up at the Mendocino County Office of Education, 2240 Old River Road in Talmage.

The shelter is located between the two front buildings where the picnic tables are located, officials said, adding that due to COVID-19 protocols, evacuees should remain in the parking-lot near their vehicles until contacted by staff for screening purposes.

According to a post on the Sheriff’s Office’s Facebook page, pets were being cared for at The Animal Shelter, 298 Plant Road, in Ukiah.

The shelter’s partner, Inland Humane Society, 9700 Uva Drive, Redwood Valley, was housing dogs, as needed. Animal owners with numerous dogs were directed to the Inland Humane Society.

Owners of livestock animals were directed to the Ukiah Fairgrounds, 1055 N. State St., in Ukiah. The Community Animal Response Team was there to take in livestock animals.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets

Nashelly Chavez

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat 

Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.   

 

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