Hundreds of residents flee Clayton fire near Lower Lake in Lake County
Firefighters sought to contain a fast-moving wildfire near Lower Lake Saturday evening as hundreds of fire-weary Lake County residents were ordered to flee the area in the face of advancing flames, some for the second time this week.
By late Saturday night, the wildfire burning south of Lower Lake had grown to 900 acres and threatened about 200 homes. Up to 500 residents had been evacuated from the area.
It was the third wildfire to hit the outskirts of Lower Lake since Tuesday.
The newest blaze destroyed at least one structure and was only 10 percent contained by midnight as firefighters from throughout Northern California were ordered up to bolster the attack.
The fire broke out just before 5 p.m. on a day that saw temperatures soar above 90 degrees in southern Lake County. Within an hour residents in a wide swath of rural land east of Highway 29 were ordered to evacuate.
Danielle Colbeck, 36, saw the fire from her home off Big Bear Road near Highway 29 and made the decision to leave. She grabbed her two cats, important papers that were already packed and drove to a friend's home in Clearlake.
“When you see black smoke and flame from your driveway, you don't want to take a chance,” said Colbeck, who last year lost her Cobb Mountain rental home and all of her belongings in the massive Valley fire, which burned 76,000 acres in southern Lake County killed four people.
Saturday was the second time in a week that fire had forced her from her Lower Lake home. She evacuated on Tuesday in the face of a smaller fire that burned 45 acres south of Anderson Marsh State Historic Park. That blaze and another that sparked within two minutes on the same day about 5 miles away are both being investigated as possible arson fires.
“I'm thankful this time around that I've had time to gather the important stuff,” Colbeck said. She described the drought-parched region's near-constant battle with wildfire as “surreal.”
An evacuation site were set up at the Highland Senior Center in Clearlake.
The cause of the new blaze, named the Clayton fire, was under investigation.
As of late Saturday, mandatory evacuations were in place for Clayton Creek Road; Morgan Valley Road to Dam Road, including all streets east of Highway 53; Ellen Springs Drive; Spruce Grove Road; Staele Lane; Black Bass Pass Road; and Lake Bridge Road.
Road Closures include Clayton Creek, Morgan Valley Road to Sam Road, Spruce Grove Road off Highway 29.
The fire burned in oak woodland with heavy brush that's difficult to access in some areas, said Suzie Blankenship, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire.
Firefighters sought to corral the blaze with bulldozers, air tankers and helicopters. By nightfall the main attack was turned over to ground fire crews.
“Now we've got a concentrated effort utilizing hand crews, engines and dozers to protect structures and continue building containment lines,” said Paul Lowenthal, an assistant Santa Rosa fire marshal who is serving as part of a strike team on the blaze.
Fire officials reported that only one structure had been destroyed by the fire, but photographs showed flames torching at least several rural buildings.
North Coast state Sen. Mike McGuire, who was in frequent communication with Lake County officials, said firefighters waged a dramatic attack from the fire's start.
“Maximum air support has been called in to try to hit the fire hard before nightfall,” he said Saturday evening.
He referenced the pair of Lower Lake fires earlier this week that authorities suspect may have been intentionally set.
“There is concern that there's potential for arson,” he said. “That's another issue that local authorities are following up on.”
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or email@example.com. On Twitter @renofish.