‘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.