Rocky Fire jumps Highway 20 in Lake County

The Rocky fire made its way across Highway 20 east of Clearlake Oaks Monday as winds carried hot embers across the highway.|

The Rocky fire made its first foray across Highway 20 east of Clearlake Oaks as Monday afternoon winds carried hot embers across the highway, which has served as a containment line for the blaze that has charred 62,000 acres, a Cal Fire spokesman said.

Multiple spot fires were burning in dry vegetation about two miles east of Double Eagle Ranch, a rural subdivision in the Walker Ridge area, said Steve Swindle, an agency spokesman from the Ventura County Fire Department.

The spot fires were “expected to have aggressive activity,” and firefighters were working to build control lines around them, spokesman Steve Frawley said.

At 9 p.m., Cal Fire spokesman Steve Kaufmann said there were two spot fires, each covering about 50 acres.

Residents, especially in Double Eagle Ranch, were urged to “stay vigilant” and adhere to any evacuation orders or road closures, Frawley said.

Over the weekend, fire crews were deployed along Highways 20 and 16, essentially waiting for the fast-moving fire to come to them. The Rocky fire, which started Wednesday east of Lower Lake, has burned largely out of control in a mostly inaccessible area south of Highway 20, with helicopters and aircraft attacking the flames.

The blaze was 12 percent contained, Cal Fire said Monday. It had slowed overnight with favorable weather conditions but continued to devour drought-dry wildlands, Frawley said.

Cooler temperatures and an increase in humidity kept the fire from growing the way it did over the weekend, when it tripled in size, he said.

The Rocky fire is the largest of several active fires in the state and has burned more than 84 square miles, Frawley said.

“We’re seeing fire behavior that’s unprecedented because of drought conditions over the last four years,” Frawley said. “There has been exponential growth.”

Residents of about 700 homes in the Spring Valley community were ordered to evacuate Sunday night as a precautionary measure, Swindle said.

“They had a pretty big blow-up in that area when the winds shifted,” he said.

Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin said Monday that the occupants of a few dozen homes declined to leave, prompting concern for their safety since there is a single, two-lane road from Spring Valley south to Highway 20. Deputies have no authority to enforce an evacuation order, he said.

Mandatory evacuations now cover about 1,000 homes, Martin said. About 5,000 people live in areas covered by advisory evacuations, which ask that residents prepare to leave, he said. Most of those are in the Chapman Tract of Clearlake, he said.

The Rocky fire has destroyed 24 homes and 26 outbuildings. More than 6,900 structures are threatened.

On Monday, nearly 3,000 firefighters and 285 engines were working on the blaze, along with four air tankers, 19 helicopters, 57 bulldozers and 40 water tenders.

Firefighting resources “continue to respond from in and out of the state,” Cal Fire said.

The fire is bordered by Highway 20 to the north and Highway 16 to the east and touches Yolo and Colusa counties. Highway 20 and Highway 16 remained closed.

Air quality remained good Monday in most of Lake County, except along the Highway 20 corridor and in areas under evacuation orders and advisories, said Doug Gearhart, the county air pollution control officer. The county has no monitors in those areas, but Gearhart said better air quality there is likely today.

However, conditions can change quickly from good to unhealthy over the next few days, officials said, noting that all of Lake County could be “significantly impacted” due to changing weather.

Dr. Karen Tait, the county public health officer, advised residents to be cautious in resuming normal outdoor activities. Smoky air can irritate the eyes, nose and air passages and potentially is hazardous to young children, the elderly and people with heart conditions or chronic lung disease.

Visible smoke near the ground is an indicator the air is unhealthy, Gearhart said, recommending that people stay indoors, set air conditioners to recirculate air and avoid strenuous activity under those conditions.

Another indicator of unhealthy air is an obscured view of Mount Konocti, he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or On Twitter @ppayne. You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or On Twitter @guykovner.

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