Progress made on Mendocino Complex fires

Firefighters are making headway in their efforts to contain the Mendocino Complex Fire burning in Lake, Mendocino, and Colusa counties, officials said during a live-streamed Emergency Meeting Update.

That was particularly the case with the River Fire – which is straddling the Lake and Mendocino County line.  According to a Cal Fire incident report, the River Fire was 58 percent contained as of 7 PM on Sunday night, with full containment expected by Aug. 15.

“It’s been a real good day on the River Fire,” said Charley Blankenheim, Operations Sections Chief, who added that their progress in fighting the River Fire had allowed officials to reopen a portion of Highway 20, from Highway 29 west to Highway 101.

As of that last incident report, the River Fire had burned 48,663 acres, had destroyed 130 structures, and had damaged 16 more. There are still 9,300 structures that remain threatened.

Blankenheim said that Sunday marked another “very, very active, dynamic day” for the Ranch Fire, which has burned 218,319 acres and is just 23 percent contained. Despite the high activity and dynamic fire conditions, officials felt they were making some tangible progress.

“We’re fairly optimistic that our efforts over the last three or four days – (which) at times seemed like they were kind of futile… and seemed like nothing was working – things are starting to come together a little bit,” Blankenheim said. “We still have a lot of challenges, and a lot of pieces to pick up, but we feel like we’re kind of getting ahead of the game a little bit on the whole bottom of the fire.”

Firefighters were helped by a more stable weather system on Sunday, which allowed them to actively suppress the fire with some success, along with air attack when conditions and access were permitted. On Saturday, the southeastern portion of the fire hit the location where the Pawnee Fire burned in July, and firefighters have been successful in holding the Ranch Fire there at the top of High Valley Ridge.

“We’re still getting lots of spot fires and a lot of activity (there), but we’re trying to do everything we can to pick that activity up. “With the River Fire wrapping up, we’re able to concentrate all of our aircraft in this area, and we’re really having some good success,” Blankenheim said.

Further north, on the portion of the fire burning in Colusa County, officials are optimistic that dozer lines, successful back-burning, and favorable weather conditions should help them halt its advance. On the southern edge of the portion burning in Colusa County, Blankenheim said that a dozer line was put in at Brim Road, where firefighters had hoped to contain the fire. While it crossed Brim Road after a couple of spot fires flared up across the dozer lines, Blankenheim said that an east wind coming from the valley floor was pushing the fire back toward Indian Valley Reservoir. Firefighters hope to use the reservoir to their advantage.

“They’re trying to pick this piece up and tie it back into the lake,” Blankenheim said. “We’re fairly optimistic that’s gonna work.”

He added that firefighters had taken a direct line over the slope all the way from Brim Road up to Stonyford to fight the fire’s eastward advance, and had back-burned up to where the fire’s edge had hit just below Ladoga.

“This is all holding, and holding real well, with a good, black line here,” Blankenheim said. “If we’re able to pick up where it slopped over – if we’re able to pick that up tonight, we’ll be in pretty good shape… basically from the head of the fire that’s been driving and moving so hard each day, we’ll have a pretty good hold on a chunk of it. There’s still a lot of work to do, still a lot of potential for it to spot out on both corners (northeast and southeast), but our number one priorities for tomorrow will be to hold these corners.”

Mandatory evacuations from Saturday remain in place in the area, from the town limits of Stonyford, west to the Colusa-Lake County line and North to Colusa-Glenn County line, Century Ranch sub-division, the east and west side of East Park Reservior, Lodoga from Squaw Creek Inn South and all areas west of Bear Valley Road to Hwy 20. Blankenheim said that the fire remains “quite a ways from Stonyford.” While there will be fire progression in that direction, he said that firefighters “feel pretty good about where they’ve placed lines to keep it out of (town),” and while they can’t make any guarantees, they have a structure protection plan in place for Stonyford-area residences.

North of Stonyford, firefighters will continue to build fire lines at the toe of the slope there, Balkenheim said, “and then (look) for places to bend it back and come back across the forest.”

“The forest is providing lots of challenges, and we don’t have a lot of resources right now, because we’re focused so much on the areas where the structures are, and where the head of the fire is,” Blankenheim said. “We’re starting to shift focus and resources around, to start building lines and then coming back (in that area). Lots and lots of work on the forest left to be done. Lots of planning to be done, and lots of work to be done.”

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net