Hopkins fire burns to western shore of Lake Mendocino; 30% contained
Firefighters battling the Hopkins fire in Mendocino County for the second straight day Monday brought it to 30% containment, but the area was still too hazardous to let most residents return or to get an accurate assessment of the number of homes destroyed.
A Cal Fire damage assessment team is expected to arrive Tuesday to begin reviewing the devastation left by a 257-acre wildfire, which burned all the way to to the Lake Mendocino shoreline.
Until now, Cal Fire officials have only said that the blaze threatened 200 structures before destroying at least 10 Sunday afternoon in a hillside residential area of Calpella, an unincorporated community about 6 miles north of Ukiah.
Access to the burn area was expected to remain closed into Tuesday morning as firefighters continue to expand containment.
“Although we’re making significant progress, the area is still extremely hazardous for everybody,” Cal Fire Mendocino Unit Chief George Gonzalez said in a Facebook update around 5 p.m. Monday. “So, in order to maintain safety, we’re keeping all locals out for the time being. But you are our No. 1 priority, and we will let you in the second we get a chance.”
The wildfire burned to the northwestern shore of Lake Mendocino and scorched portions of the reservoir that have dried up amid a historic drought.
Flames charred the lake’s northwest shore and wiped out signs, picnic tables and a restroom in a recreational area southeast of Marina Drive and along the eastern edge of the hillside that caught fire.
Just beyond the damage, along the beach are swaths of dried vegetation growing in an area once under water. And within that area, near the northernmost point burned, is a patch of vegetation scorched by a spot fire.
“Even though it’s kind of marshy, it still burned,” Cal Fire spokeswoman Patricia Austin said Monday, as firefighters continued to work along the edge of the reservoir.
“Water used to be something we could count on” as a barrier against a fire’s spread, Austin said. “Now it’s not a dead stop.”
The cause of the fire, which was reported around 2 p.m. on Sunday between Moore and East Hopkins streets, is unknown. Cal Fire is investigating, Battalion Chief Drew Rhoads said.
The fire burned north and east on Sunday, swallowing up dried-out vegetation as it ran up a 1,000-foot ridge and down the other side toward the reservoir.
Lake Mendocino Park Manager Poppy Lozoff said dam infrastructure at the south end of the lake has not been threatened by the flames. She said water releases into the upper reaches of the Russian River were continuing as scheduled.
The fire did cause significant damage to the Pomo recreational day-use area off Marina Drive on the lake’s northern end.
Trees near the site were still smoldering on Monday, as were creosote logs along the edges of roadways and parking areas intended to keep vehicles away from the reservoir’s edge.
Lozoff, who had been prevented from getting to the lake on Sunday because of a fatal crash that closed Highway 101 outside Willits, said driving in Monday past devastated homes and charred woods was a painful, unsettling experience.
The landscape around Marina Drive is very steep and has been subject to mudslides and road washouts over the years. Now that it’s burned and blackened, it’s almost unrecognizable, she said.
“It’s overwhelming, you know? It kind of takes your breath away,” Lozoff said. “I started here in 2010 as a ranger, so I used to patrol all over all the time. You get used to seeing the landscape in a specific way, and (now) it looks like something foreign, not even something from Earth.”
The speed with which the fire moved up the draw parallel to Marina Drive was “unbelievable,” she said, and reinforces how much more needs to be done to keep pace with the growing threat of wildfire.
She said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the reservoir, continues to make improvements, like recently burying power lines, “but every fire brings a new lesson, so it feels like we’re always behind the curve. We’re never able to get out in front of it and feel fully prepared, because fire is so dynamic.”
Mostly, Lozoff said she realizes that the damage to the lake, at this point, is nothing compared to the losses of neighbors, many of whom walk their dogs at the lake or wave from their cars in passing.
“Our thoughts are really with the community,” she said. “As a federal entity, when these disasters hit, it’s hard to integrate and reach out. But I know all of our staff really values the community and, you know, we see the impacts and we miss our neighbors, and we hope they’ll be back soon.”