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Fire coverage

To read all of the Press Democrat's fire coverage, click here.

California’s largest-ever wildland fire, a 7-week-old inferno that raged mostly across northern Lake County, scorching hundreds of thousands of acres of national forest, has been declared fully contained, Forest Service officials said Wednesday.

The Ranch fire was the giant among a pair of blazes called the Mendocino Complex that erupted an hour apart July 27 in Mendocino County and swept east, spurring evacuation orders affecting thousands of residents across four counties. Together, the fires burned a total of 459,123 acres — more than 700 square miles — and destroyed 280 structures, including 157 homes.

The lone fatality was a Utah firefighter who was killed last month battling the Ranch fire.

About 460 firefighters remained assigned to the blaze Wednesday, accompanied by seven engines, a helicopter and 45 bulldozers. With flames corralled, crews will shift their focus to repairing the 22 miles of fireline surrounding the blaze, as well as restoring burned areas, according to the Forest Service, which took over command of the fire last month.

“We don’t anticipate any further growth but we don’t have a crystal ball,” said Punky Moore, a Forest Service spokeswoman.

The announcement came hours before another warning for fire-scarred Northern California. The National Weather Service issued a red-flag fire warning to Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties, where high wind gusts, warmer temperatures and low humidity were forecast starting Wednesday night and extending through Thursday evening. Residents were urged to refrain from using outdoor fire pits, open fires or power equipment near dry vegetation.

Last month, firefighters fully contained the smaller of the two Mendocino Complex blazes, the River fire, which burned 48,920 acres but accounted for most of structure losses, claiming 264 structures, including 146 homes. The cause of both fires remains under investigation.

They represent the latest in a series of destructive wildland fires that have ravaged Lake County since 2015, scorching about half of the county’s acreage and destroying thousands of homes.

Residents and region’s tourism-dependent economy have suffered, said Lake County Supervisor Jim Steele, whose district was under siege for days this summer as the Ranch fire encroached on communities lining Clear Lake.

“All of those things come together for a perfect secondary storm, if you will,” Steele said. “There’s a disaster after the disaster.”

In 2015, three separate blazes — the Rocky, Jerusalem and Valley fires — burned a combined 170,000 acres. The most destructive of the three, the Valley fire, killed five people and destroyed more than 1,280 homes.

The arson-sparked Clayton fire in 2016 burned 4,000 acres, taking out 300 homes and businesses in the greater Lower Lake area. Last year, the 2,207-acre Sulphur fire destroyed 162 structures around Clearlake Oaks during the October firestorm.

This year, the Pawnee fire that started in June burned 22 structures in Lake County’s Spring Valley. That fire claimed more than 15,000 acres.

“Things are not going to be normal for a long time,” Steele said.

The Mendocino Complex fires have proved costly for the state, totaling to $56 million in insured losses as of Sept. 6, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones announced earlier this month. When combined with the Carr fire, which burned close to 230,00 acres in rural Shasta and Trinity counties, insured losses total $845 million and were expected to rise.

Fire coverage

To read all of the Press Democrat's fire coverage, click here.

Last week, Cal Fire released a report into the death of Matthew Burchett, a 42-year-old Utah battalion chief who came to Northern California in August to help combat the region’s fires. Burchett was killed Aug.13 near Lake Pillsbury’s Scott Dam when he was struck by a tree that was toppled by a torrent of fire retardant dropped from air tanker on a mistakenly low flight path, according to the Cal Fire report.

Three other firefighters were injured, one seriously, by falling debris from another tree snapped by the retardant drop.

As crews continue to extinguish the last of the flames, the southern portion of Mendocino National Forest will remain closed to the public, with the Forest Service flagging burned stumps and standing trees, as well as loose logs and rocks, as potential hazards. The agency warned visitors, including deer hunters, against entering the closed area.

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

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