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Mendocino Complex fires in Mendocino, Lake counties force additional evacuations

Two wildfires raging along the border between Lake and Mendocino counties doubled in size Sunday, forcing 10,000 people to flee homes in the path of the flames along Clear Lake and knocking out power to more than 40,000 people sweltering in triple-digit temperatures.

Authorities ordered residents to leave three towns - Lakeport, Upper Lake and Nice - along the west and north shores of Clear Lake as the Mendocino complex fires grew to 30,500 acres. In Mendocino County, residents in the eastern sections of Potter Valley were also told to leave.

“It’s getting really ugly here,” Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin told residents Sunday evening in a Facebook Live video. “Get your belongings and evacuate out of the area.”

A shortage of available ground and air resources - already assigned to other active fires elsewhere in the state - were slowing suppression efforts, Cal Fire said Sunday morning.

The two fires erupted Friday in Mendocino County, just 14 miles apart near Hopland and Potter Valley, and spread rapidly to the east through thick, parched brush that has not burned for years as they converged toward the lake. Flames closed Highway 20 near Mendocino-Lake county line.

The largest of the two fires, dubbed the Ranch fire, started northeast of Ukiah off Highway 20 and was moving toward the upper part of Clear Lake. By Sunday evening, it had blackened 16,300 acres, tripling in size over the previous day, Cal Fire reported.

The second fire, the River fire, started 6 miles north of Hopland and was heading toward Lakeport. It grew more slowly, expanding to 14,200 acres as it chewed up 5,000 more acres over the previous day.

The flames destroyed four homes and one outbuilding, Cal Fire said.

Firefighters labored in scorching temperatures to stop the fires from spreading by lighting backfires to clear brush and bulldozing fire lines, but winds pushed embers ahead and ignited spot fires. By the end of the day, only 5 percent of the fires had been contained.

One bulldozer driver was injured Sunday, according to scanner reports. Authorities could not provide details, although the driver was conscious and appeared to have escaped without broken bones or lacerations, according to scanner reports. Weather conditions were expected to remain difficult for firefighters, with hot, dry winds forecast to return to the area today.

“It’s looking like breezy and hot conditions, unfortunately, which makes for challenging fire weather conditions, to say the least,” said Tom Dang, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

An estimated 10,000 Lake County residents were ordered to leave their homes on Sunday as the fires moved closer toward Clear Lake, Martin said.

“The air is thick with smoke,” Martin said in a phone interview on Sunday. “From where I’m standing on (Clear Lake’s) west shore, you can’t see the opposite shoreline.”

State Sen. Mike McGuire, whose district encompasses Lake and Mendocino counties, said 150 fire engines from neighboring states are being sent to help with the Mendocino complex fires and other fires across the state.

He urged residents to obey evacuation orders.

“Now is the time to get out,” McGuire said. “This fire exploded this afternoon.”

About 42,000 customers in the Mendocino-Lake county region lost power around 2:30 p.m. Sunday and remained in the dark into the evening after the fire damaged two transmission lines near Upper Lake.

PG&E crews were attempting to transfer power to a third transmission line in the area, PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith said.

“You have to make sure that it can safely maintain the load,” Smith said. “You’re essentially putting the load that you would handle on three transmissions onto one.”

It was the second major power outage in the region over the weekend. On Saturday, about 53,000 people lost power, which was restored early Sunday morning.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or at kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler. You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

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