Mendocino Complex fires in Mendocino, Lake counties remain unchecked, surpass 68,000 acres
Two wildfires bearing down on shoreline communities of Clear Lake doubled in size again Monday, forcing thousands more residents to flee their homes as flames that have torched more than 68,000 acres of rugged, rural landscape encroached on more populated areas of Lake County.
Nearly 2,000 personnel posted on the fire lines Monday evening had so far prevented the River fire from entering Lakeport, the county seat, though flames had moved within a mile of city limits, officials said.
But fire licking at the edges of Upper Lake destroyed several homes Monday evening at the Upper Lake Rancheria. The River fire and the larger Ranch fire to its north were continuing to spread eastward, prompting sweeping new evacuations to clear people out of harm’s way as the fires burned into a fourth day and remained just 5 percent contained.
“We’re going to be at this for quite a while,” Lake County Supervisor Jim Steele said Monday. “It’s a big fire. It (the River fire) is threatening two towns. And it’s going to be a while before we let these folks back in.”
For a region still reeling from a series of catastrophic wildfires over the past four years, the arrival of two new wildfires has both reopened wounds and reinforced practices well-learned through repetition, Steele said.
Clay Godbout of Kelseyville is one who knows the drill.
Leaning against the doorframe of his screen-printing shop on Monday, he described working all morning with his six employees to pack shirts, a portable printer and other inventory into a caravan of five cars and a trailer so they could evacuate when the time came, as it did Monday afternoon.
He’s no stranger to the process, having been forced to evacuate from his previous Clearlake location and now his new rented location six times in recent years.
“When it’s not smoky, this is a beautiful county,” he said. “I’ve been through this rodeo — it’s just what you do.”
But the exhaustion has been clearly visible on people’s faces, as they gathered at evacuation shelters over the weekend, state Sen. Mike McGuire said.
“There is not a county in this state that has faced such destruction and challenge from wildland fires as Lake County,” McGuire, D-Healdsburg, said Monday, his voice cracking with fatigue and emotion. “This is the fourth year in a row that a massive wildland fire event has struck Lake County. It’s devastating, and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s tough.”
The two fires were sparked across the county line in Mendocino County not quite an hour apart at mid-day Friday.
The Ranch fire ignited at a private ranch on the south end of Potter Valley and by Monday evening had reached 45,000 acres, expanding in multiple directions on the north side of Highway 20 as it pushed toward the town of Upper Lake on Clear Lake’s northern shore and the Mendocino National Forest to the north of it.
The River fire, started near Hopland, grew east along the north side of Highway 175, crossing rugged forestland and dense brush as it headed into the lake basin reaching for Lakeport and points along the southerly shore.
Aided by high temperatures, low humidity, very dry fuels and regular afternoon winds that have thwarted containment efforts, the fires arrived amid extreme weather conditions around California, where 17 active wildfires continue to overwhelm available resources.