The ravenous Mendocino Complex fires, a pair of wildland blazes that have displaced tens of thousands of people and cut a path of destruction through three counties, had become the largest wildfire in modern California history, reaching 283,800 acres by Monday evening.
The Ranch fire, the larger of the two fires that make up the Mendocino Complex fires, grew to 235,000 acres Monday, Cal Fire officials said. Only 21 percent of the fire had been contained by nightfall.
To the southeast, the River fire remained in check Monday, scorching 48,800 acres, Cal Fire said. It was 58 percent contained.
For the past 11 days, the two fires have disrupted countless lives across a large stretch of Northern California. Smoke could be seen throughout the Bay Area on Monday and deep into the Central Valley as the northern flanks of the Ranch fire advanced deeper into the Mendocino National Forest, leveling woodland brush and conifers. Meanwhile, its southeastern arm threatened Lake County homes that were terrorized by forest fire only a month ago.
The fires have now destroyed 75 homes and 68 other structures, though it was not clear if the increase resulted from new losses Monday or ongoing efforts to assess destruction from the fires that erupted July 27. Flames threatened 11,300 structures Monday, hampering efforts by county officials to transfer evacuees out of shelters established in local schools in time to make room for students scheduled to return to class next week.
“It’s a stressful time for everybody, sleep deprivation, smoke and everything else,” said Lake County Supervisor Bob Brown. “That Ranch fire is going to burn for a long, long time. We’ll be dealing with the effects of the fire long after people return to their homes.”
A high pressure system brought warmer, dry weather and strong winds to the region on Monday. The Ranch fire spread east and southeast, as crews worked aggressively to hold previously established containment lines. It has now burned into sections of Mendocino, Lake and Colusa counties.
Officials said backfire operations in the Cow Mountain area kept the River fire in check. The firefight there and at other containment lines were aided by additional fire engines, water tenders and bulldozers.
Together, the two fires consumed 16,818 acres on Monday, pushing it to the top of the state’s list of most infamous wildfires. Brown, however, called the designation “inconsequential,” compared to the number of lives upended by the fires.
On Monday, Jim Bolander found himself on top of his home on Spring Valley Road, hosing down his roof. Bolander, who drives a concrete mixer for a living, has resided in Spring Valley for the past eight years.
Last Thursday evening, he was pulling into his driveway when he got a Nixle alert ordering Spring Valley residents to evacuate. Bolander, however, decided to stay, joining several neighbors who refused to leave the community hit in late June by the Pawnee fire, a blaze that kicked off this year’s early fire season.
“It was like a big slap in the face because we just went through it about a month ago,” he said.
Bolander spent the afternoon Monday dousing spot fires that popped up in brush behind his house and helping firefighters “pull hose and cut fence.”