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Oak fire in Mendocino County near Willits burns 700 acres

A fast-moving fire broke out in Mendocino County on Monday afternoon, shutting down Highway 101 in both directions and threatening 3,400 buildings in Willits and surrounding areas.

The blaze, named the Oak fire, erupted at 12:16 p.m. in triple-digit temperatures near the Brooktrails township north of Willits and had spread to 700 acres with no containment by 8 p.m. Monday, Cal Fire said.

At least one home was destroyed by the blaze, which had forced roughly 1,500 residents from their homes under mandatory evacuation orders by Monday night, Mendocino County Sheriff’s Lt. Shannon Barney said.

Highway 101 was blocked in both directions from the north end of the Willits Bypass down to the turnoff for Covelo at Route 162, state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg said. The closure was ordered to give firefighters faster access to the blaze, which was burning in rugged, heavily forested terrain, and make way for people evacuating from their homes, said Tricia Austin, a Cal Fire spokeswoman.

While the fire was moving east to north Monday afternoon, firefighters were keeping a close eye on the winds overhead, which were expected shift overnight, Austin said.

Roughly 100 people had fled from the fire to two evacuation centers, one at Willits High School and the other at the Baechtel Grove Middle School nearby, by Monday night, Barney said.

The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office also issued several evacuation warnings in areas surrounding the fire’s perimeter Monday night, including sections of Willits and the rural Brooktrails community, Barney said.

“We have the fire surrounded by various warning zones, so no matter where the fire moves, people will be ready,” Barney said.

Residents on Big John Road, Sky View Road, First Gate Road and Schow Road to Ryan Creek Road were ordered to evacuate because of the fire, which was moving north, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office said. Click here to view a live map of the evacuation zones.

In Willits, a mandatory evacuation was issued for the area within the intersection of Main Street and Sherwood Road, northwest to 3rd Gate Road, east to Highway 101 and Shimmins Ridge Road and 1 mile east of Highway 101; south to Reynolds Highway; and South Sherwood Road to Main Street, the Sheriff’s Office announced at 4:16 p.m.

At 5:08 p.m., residents were ordered to leave the western portion of Brooktrails. The mandatory evacuation zone included the area west of Sherwood Road, north of Willits, east of Ridge Road, and south of Timber Road.

Additional evacuations were ordered for the Covelo area south of Boardman Ridge and Anthony Peak, east of Nebo Rock north of McCoy Ridge and west of the Glenn-Tehama county line.

More than 230 firefighters were battling the flames from the ground and the air as the fire burned through a mix of grass, brush, oak and pine trees.

“Firefighters are working in extreme conditions: high heat, low humidity, with the potential for erratic winds,” Cal Fire said.

At one point, Cal Fire estimated the blaze had swelled to 1,000 acres, but more detailed mapping put its size at 700 acres Monday night.

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

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