Pawnee fire grows in Lake County, with hot, windy weekend in forecast
The Pawnee fire in eastern Lake County continued its forward march on Tuesday, burning another 1,500 acres, as it spread mostly east into largely undeveloped and unforgiving terrain crisscrossed by ravines and ridges off the south end of Indian Valley Reservoir.
But an army of 2,700 firefighters — nearly double the force that started the day — gained critical ground, getting 17 percent of the 13,000-acre fire contained after it had spread unchecked for several days.
Fire officials said a long haul lay ahead, given the rugged landscape and the predicted return of hot, gusty weather this weekend. About 1,500 people have been evacuated from 600 homes in the area.
Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin said there were positive developments to welcome.
“The good news is that the containment they have reached is around the populated areas, so the homes are being protected,” Martin said. “This thing’s going to keep burning, and we want it to burn away from us.”
He also said he hoped residents of rural Spring Valley, where the fire first started, could return home sometime this week.
But Cal Fire Capt. Scott McLean said Tuesday it was unlikely the blaze would be under control before temperatures spiked into the triple digits and gusting winds threatened to fan lingering flames.
“The fire is going to get bigger before it’s done,” McLean said.
How much bigger was partly dependent on the weather over the next few days, which — if not exactly favorable — appeared to be “going in the right direction,” National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Kochasic said from the agency’s Sacramento office.
The weather service already has issued a fire weather watch for the region beginning Friday and lasting until Sunday evening, forecasting daytime humidity levels as low as 10 percent with gusting winds up to 35 mph.
“It would be good to get it (the fire) somewhat contained or at least smoldering by the time this wind event comes up,” Kochasic said.
The wildfire started late Saturday afternoon in the rural community of Spring Valley, located northeast of the town of Clearlake Oaks and Clear Lake, the largest freshwater lake entirely in California.
From its start shortly before 5:30 p.m. off Quail Trail toward the north end of Spring Valley, the Pawnee fire grew to 1,500 acres by the next morning and then to 7,700 acres by Sunday night, driven by gusting winds that cast embers ahead, causing spot fires. The blaze has grown incrementally since then, though its progress has slowed significantly as a greater number of fire crews joined the effort.
Twenty-two structures, including 12 homes, have been destroyed, and four structures were damaged, Cal Fire said.
Just a handful of evacuees are staying at the Red Cross Shelter at Lower Lake High School in Clearlake.
But several hundred have gathered at the Moose Lodge outside of Clearlake Oaks, where the parking lot and surrounding fields were teeming Tuesday with tents, cars and recreational vehicles spread out in the summer sun. Inside the lodge, piles of donations including games, toiletries and blankets lined tables while cots filled common spaces and residents crowded around a bar.