Ranch fire pushes east and south in Lake County, triggering new evacuation orders
The return of severe fire weather fanned flames in Lake County on Friday and forced new evacuation orders affecting thousands of people, with firefighters bracing for what was expected to be another difficult day, the ninth since a volatile pair of wildfires ignited in neighboring Mendocino County.
As forecast, the gusty winds and low humidity helped fuel another large run of the two Mendocino Complex fires, which grew to a combined 157,450 acres. Nearly 90 structures have been destroyed, including 41 homes, though officials cautioned that a closer evaluation of damage in some areas had only just begun.
More than 9,000 structures remain under threat, Cal Fire reported, and more than 16,000 people remain under mandatory evacuation orders, according to Lake and Mendocino County sheriff’s offices.
Friday’s weather fed another display of extreme fire growth in Lake County, which has seen more than a third of its landscape burn in wildfires over the past three years. The scars now nearly ring Clear Lake at the county’s center, with the heaviest damage on the southern and southeastern end, where a devastating series of fires raged in 2015.
The new evacuations covered communities on the lake’s northeastern shore, including Lucerne, Clearlake Oaks and Pepperwood Grove, all threatened by the larger Ranch fire, which has been pushing east and south through the Mendocino National Forest and other rural, lightly settled terrain.
It churned through an additional 30,000 acres Thursday night and Friday and had burned a total of 115,250 acres by nightfall. Containment was at 28 percent.
On its southern front, the Ranch fire was headed toward an area that already burned this year in the Pawnee fire, which began in late June and was fully contained July 9.
Cal Fire Division Chief Mike Wilson said the Ranch fire’s progress in that area should stall if it reaches the Pawnee fire scar.
“That will really help in that area, because of the reduced fuel there,” said Wilson. “There might be pockets of fuel left....The Pawnee fire burned pretty clean and should be an excellent fuel break.”
On the western shore of Clear Lake, the River fire’s northward movement spurred an evacuation order for an area northeast of Cow Mountain. It had burned 42,200 acres Friday, increasing by approximately 1,000 acres. Containment of the River fire remained at 50 percent.
Lake County officials lifted mandatory evacuation orders for residents along the fire’s eastern front, including Highland Springs, southwest Lakeport and Scotts Creek. An advisory evacuation was still in effect for those areas, and authorities warned residents returning to the area to remain vigilant, and to avoid contact with ash and debris which contain high concentrations of toxic substances.
Lake County Supervisor Jim Steele, whose district includes Upper Lake, Nice, Lucerne, Clearlake Oaks and Glenhaven, spent the morning touring the Ranch fire’s burn zone north of Upper Lake, assessing the extensive damage.
An uptick Friday in the number of destroyed homes resulted from a more accurate assessment of the fire’s damage, he said. Steele was personally involved in that effort. Shortly after 10 a.m., he was headed up to White Rock Road to take pictures of local residents’ homes. People in his district have been sending him messages asking him to check on their properties.