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The wildland fire that started last weekend in Yolo County has exploded into the largest blaze of the season and served as an early signal that a region traumatized by October’s deadly fires will spend the next several months warily watching the skies.

Officially called the County fire, the blaze near the town of Guinda on rural Highway 16 has now consumed 60,000 acres after spreading into Napa County. Virtually unchecked, it swelled by about 27,500 acres in a 24-hour period that ended Monday evening.

Falling ash and the sight and smell of smoke from that conflagration, as well as from the Pawnee fire in Lake County, have triggered a surge of calls and social media messages to the region’s fire departments, with residents anxious to make sure the flames aren’t drawing closer.

“Particularly in light of what we went through in October, people are very nervous and very edgy, and rightfully so,” said Cyndi Foreman, spokeswoman for Rincon Valley and Windsor Fire Protection Districts. “And of course with the Fourth of July holiday approaching, people have fears and concerns.”

The growing Yolo County fire could be spotted from some spots in Sonoma County. In one case, a Mark West Springs resident requested a fire engine and crew come see for themselves.

As a result, local fire departments and the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office have been issuing alerts to tell North Bay residents no threat exists at this time.

Reminders that all fireworks are illegal in most Sonoma County cities, with exceptions such as Petaluma and Rohnert Park, are also being sent out this week.

More than 1,200 firefighting and management staff are now working the County fire. Under red flag fire weather conditions, the blaze began burning Saturday afternoon on the northeast side of Lake Berryessa, southwest of Highway 16 and east of Berryessa-Knoxville Road.

Through focused air and ground attacks, crews had managed just 5 percent containment Monday night. Additional air resources have been ordered to help gain an upper hand with a target of July 10 for full containment, according to Blanca Mercado, a Cal Fire spokeswoman on the fire’s incident command team.

“Right now we’re looking good as the only show in town, and can hopefully wrap this up by then,” she said, noting no other fires are in the area. “We expect it to be out by the 10th, so long as nothing else happens. But there are a lot of variables and other factors like weather that could change that.”

While northerly weekend winds quickly pushed flames over the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Mount Vaca area along the Napa-Solano county line, the wildfire has so far yet to destroy any structures. But Mercado said 116 structures, most of which are rural homes and cabins, remain threatened.

That resulted in mandatory evacuation of homes served by Highway 128, between Monticello Dam and Pleasant Valley Road, as well as the area north of Highway 128, south of County Road 23 and east of Berryessa-Knoxville Road, as well as west of County Road 89 south of Esparto. The city of Winters is excluded from the orders. Other areas were under an evacuation advisory.

The county continues to run an evacuation shelter at the Guinda Grange Hall at 16487 Forest Ave., in Guinda.


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An American Red Cross spokesman confirmed it remains on standby should circumstances worsen and its assistance be needed.

Beyond high winds during the weekend’s fire prone conditions, part of the reason the fire has grown so rapidly is the presence of drought-stressed vegetation with low moisture levels. These plants and shrubs normally hit those decreased measures by fall, said Capt. Jordan Motta of Cal Fire, but warm temperatures early in the season are making them quick fuel for earlier and earlier wildfires.

“We don’t usually see these numbers until September or November, and it’s not matching up with what we typically see until later in the year,” said Motta, who is working on the County fire. “Add in 25 mph winds and low humidity and it’s growing at a very, very dangerous rate. There was just no catching up with it, it was moving so fast.”

Crews have made a priority of preventing the fire’s spread 8 to 10 miles away into Rumsey Canyon — a historic wildfire corridor that’s seen three large-scale fires in the past five years.

The area is known for steep terrain that makes firefighting difficult because of thicker, continuous brush and inability to move bulldozers in to create fire lines.

Elsewhere, in Lake County, the Pawnee fire also grew, if much more slowly, Monday. It was 14,800 acres and is 75 percent contained.

Cal Fire officials expect to have the fire fully encircled with a strong containment line by Thursday.

In the interim, CHP lifted road closures at Highway 53 and Highway 20, as well as at Highway 16 and Highway 20. The fire has destroyed 22 structures, including 12 homes, and a mandatory evacuation order remains in effect for roughly 200 residents in the Double Eagle Ranch subdivision east of the fire.

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 Randi Rossmann at 707-521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@rossmannreport.

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