Golf fire burning in Lake County prompts evacuations

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A wildfire in Lake County expanded to 19 acres on Thursday evening as hundreds of personnel from multiple agencies worked to combat flames that forced the evacuation of a 250-home neighborhood on Clear Lake’s southwestern shore.

The Golf fire, named for its proximity to the Buckingham Golf Course, was burning on the edge of the Riviera West and Buckingham Park subdivisions. It ignited at 1 p.m. and prompted near-immediate evacuation orders for residents in the area and the closure of five roads near the golf course, Cal Fire spokesman Will Powers said.

About 40 structures, including homes, were threatened by flames and evacuees were directed to a shelter at Kelseyville High School, which will remain open through Friday. The fire on Thursday night was about 30% contained, and no homes had been affected, Powers said.

Additional road closures in the area diverted traffic away from the flames.

Power to the Riviera West area was cut off by PG&E as a precaution, and officials said it would be restored when weather conditions and fire hazards were less extreme.

Hundreds of thousands of acres and thousands of structures have been razed by fires in Lake County since 2015. The last megafire, the Ranch fire, remains the largest in California’s history. That monster blaze consumed more than 410,000 acres, blackening much of the Mendocino National Forest.

But the Clear Lake Riviera area — a string of subdivisions located along the Soda Bay Road corridor — has largely escaped the scourge.

It is loaded with dense, unburned fuel leading up a steep hillside rising out of the lake toward Mount Konocti. The area is known as a tinderbox ready to ignite, according to Lake County Supervisor Rob Brown, who represents the area.

About 1,200 residents live in the high-risk area, Brown said, and there are very few routes out.

“There’s no other community in Lake County that has this kind of fuel load, with this many people there,” said Brown.

A nearby preserve, the Black Forest, contains 255 acres of old-growth Douglas fir, many of the trees more than 100 years old. Once slated for logging, the forest was preserved through a conservation sale about 15 years ago and is now held by the Bureau of Land Management.

Hot, dry weather combined with a light breeze has prompted concern about the continued spread of the fire, which was nearing the Black Forest on Thursday evening, Powers said.

“There’s a ton of areas that you could pick, but none of them have the exposure and the wildland/urban interface and all the cars on the road that could potentially ignite a fire,” Brown said.

Local agencies and Cal Fire were fighting the blaze, with helicopters and tankers dropping retardant and water on the flames. There were also some spotting of flames in other area, but those were quickly contained, Powers said. The cause of the fire was still being investigated.

Brown, interviewed earlier this week, said he had been absolutely consumed by worry about the area and about the prospect of facing another destructive wildfire in the county this season. Lying awake at 2 a.m. one recent morning, he came up with an ambitious and, maybe, an extreme plan.

He dreamed a project he called “1,000 Hands” through which he hopes to assemble about 500 people on the morning of Aug. 17, to work together to clear roadside vegetation along about a 5-mile stretch of the southern edge of Soda Bay Road, between Tenino Way in Clear Lake Riviera and Cypress Avenue in Riviera Heights.

”I actually went out and measured it off with a walking wheel and figured it out,” he said. “It’s 26,000 feet that needs to be done. If everybody does 50 feet … It’s 500 people.”

The idea is to clear several feet on the upside of the road, where a fire would try to spread, stopping it in its tracks.

“The last big fire on Konocti was in 1961,” Brown said. “When they built these subdivisions, they really didn’t consider wildfire.”

Brown’s proposal has had “a huge response,” involving homeowner associations, as well as the Kelseyville Fire Protection District, which will be patrolling in the area, he said.

You can reach Staff Writers Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com and Alexandria Bordas at 707-521-5337 or alexandria.bordas@pressdemocrat.com.

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