Offbeat California's largest fire ever keeps growing
Mendocino fire racing at unprecedented speed into the record books
MIDDLETOWN, Calif. - The massive Mendocino Complex fire jumped across at least four creeks, one major road and a fire line cut by a bulldozer in a single six-mile run this weekend toward Leesville, a tiny unincorporated way station in Colusa County. A firefighter knocks down hotspots to slow the spread of the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) on July 31 in Lakeport.
The largest fire in California history continued to grow Wednesday while firefighters worked to protect threatened communities.
As of Wednesday morning, the Ranch fire had consumed 314,925 acres and was 64% contained. It has destroyed 147 homes so far. One firefighter, Matthew Burchett, 42, of Draper City, Utah, has died battling the fire.
The Ranch fire is one of two fires that form the Mendocino Complex fire. Firefighters were still monitoring the smaller of the two, the River fire, which as of Monday was 100% contained.
Residents around Clearlake have been allowed to return home, but new evacuation orders were announced in the last few days for communities to the east and west of Mendocino National Forest, including Stonyford, Lodoga
Battling 18 blazes, California may face worst fire season
California fire officials say they expect to gain control of the biggest blaze in state history in September. An air tanker drops retardant on the Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire, burning along High Valley Rd near Clearlake Oaks, California, on Aug. 5.
That presents another challenge for firefighters. Unlike the Clearlake area, which is fairly accessible by road, these communities are farther into the forest and surrounded by more rugged terrain, said Cary Wright, a Cal Fire spokesman.
Wright said the persistent low humidity has allowed the fires to continue growing — by 9,400 acres on Tuesday and 1,300 acres Monday. On Wednesday, firefighters were expecting to get a brief break in the hot weather.
Temperatures were expected to drop and humidity levels to increase Wednesday and Thursday, he said. Nighttime humidity rose significantly Tuesday for the first time since the fire started, Wright said.
Firefighters count on the drop in temperature and increase in humidity that usually occurs naturally overnight to allow them to make progress. But that hasn’t been happening in Lake County recently. Nighttime humidity levels have consistently been in the teens to 30% range. Tuesday night, the humidity reached 80%.
California blazes take a grim toll on firefighters and other responders
Ben Newburn faced a group of weary firefighters gathered a few mornings ago with one message: Safety before anything else. The veteran fire management officer for U.S. Forest Service recounted the numerous firefighters who had lost their lives battling massive blazes in the region. There was Andrew Palmer, who died 10 years ago while clearing trees. And the nine firefighters killed in 2008 when their helicopter crashed in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, an incident seared in history as the "Iron 44 tragedy.
Despite the good news, the fight is far from over.
“We’ve had numerous calls from residents, saying, ‘Why is it still smoky?’ or ‘Is there another fire?’” Wright said. Shifting winds blow smoke to different areas at different times, and many people mistakenly think that because they’ve been allowed to return home, the fires aren’t burning anymore, he explained.
“Lake County communities have experienced a lot of fires, so as you can imagine, those folks are still on edge,” he said.
Firefighters are still struggling with the terrain as the fire approaches Snow Mountain Wilderness. They are using natural and manmade barriers ahead of the fire to the north, and are placing most on-the-ground resources to the east and west where homes are threatened, Wright said.
The Mendocino Complex fire has now expanded to four counties — Mendocino, Lake, Glenn
Firefighters make gains in battle against California wildfires .
Firefighters made promising headway Thursday in containing and preventing the growth of a relentless blaze that’s become the largest in state history, but officials warned that rising temperatures this weekend could create strong fire behavior. The Mendocino Complex, which started July 27 and has scorched three counties, grew by less than 3,000 acres overnight reaching a total of 366,037 acres, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.The blaze, which is made up of the Ranch and River fires, is 76 percent contained.The River Fire, the smaller of the two blazes, has been fully contained for several days at 48,920 acres.
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