Ranch Fire: Area south of Stonyford remains “point of concern”

The largest wildfire in California’s recorded history was at 68 percent total containment as of 7 AM on Tuesday, as the Ranch Fire – the larger of the two fires that make up the Mendocino Complex, for which evacuations are in place in portions of western Colusa County near Stonyford – eclipsed 300,000 acres, Cal Fire said in an incident update.
The Ranch Fire was reported as being 68 percent contained, with an acreage total of 305,490 acres. More than 3,200 personnel are assigned to the Mendocino Complex, with 256 engines, 79 water tenders, 20 helicopters, 58 hand crews, and 76 dozers. In addition, Cal Fire reports that numerous firefighter air tankers from throughout the western United States are flying fire suppression missions as conditions allow.

In their incident update on Tuesday morning, Cal Fire said that they would continue operations on both the eastern and western flanks of the fire, working to protect the communities of Lake Pillsbury and Stonyford, adding that firefighters were working in difficult conditions and terrain to bring the fire around threatened communities and back into the Mendocino National Forest. Firefighters are actively engaging in structure protection where the fire has already reached structures and communities. The south side of the Ranch Fire has had no significant events and remains in suppression repair status with patrol, Cal Fire said, and the River Fire, which they reported as 100 percent contained – had no movement.

Mandatory evacuations remain in place for the town limits of Stonyford, west to the Colusa-Lake County line and north to the Colusa-Glenn County line, as well as the Century Ranch subdivision, the east and west sides of East Park Reservoir, and Lodoga from the Squaw Creek Inn south, and all areas west of Bear Valley Road to Highway 20. Road closures in the county remain in place, including Brim Road at Bear Valley to the county line, Cook Springs Road at Leesville-Lodoga Road, Fouts Springs Road at the Forest Boundary, Goat Mountain Road from Lodoga-Stonyford Road to the end, all of Lodoga-Stonyford Road, Rail Canyon Road at Sites-Lodoga to the Glenn County line, Harlan Road at Freshwater Road to Leesville Road, and Ohm Road from Ware Road to 3.75 miles north of Hahn Road. An evacuation center is still open at the Colusa County Veterans Hall, located at 108 E. Main St. in Colusa.

On Monday evening, Cal Fire confirmed that there had been a firefighter fatality on the Ranch Fire, the first on the Mendocino Complex.

“A firefighter from Utah was working on the active portion of the fire, where he was injured this evening. The firefighter was airlifted to a local hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries,” Incident Command Chief Sean Kavanaugh said in a live-streamed press conference. “We are extremely heartbroken for this loss. We are dedicated to investigating what happened, and will release more information as it becomes available. We mourn as we also battle California’s largest wildfire continues to burn exremely steep and remote terrain.”

The firefighter, 42-year-old Draper Fire Battalion Chief Matt Burchett, was mourned by City of Draper Mayor Troy Walker in a news conference early Tuesday morning. Walker said that Burchett leaves behind a wife and young son.

Bill Steers, Operations Section Chief for California Incident Management Team 1, said in a video update on Monday morning that a the right shoulder of the fire, located south of Stonyford, remained a “point of concern.”

“Crews in that area started (Sunday) with aerial ignition, trying to put a buffer along this area, on that John Smith Road and Crackerbox (Trail) area – continuing to blacken that up to give us a buffer, so when the fire does get enough wind to push through the old Mill Fire, we have a large enough buffer to stop that progression to the east and protect that Stonyford area,” Steers said, adding that those operations would continue through Monday. “You’ll see smoke coming out of that area as we continue to buffer that up.”

Last week, during the Aug. 7 meeting of the Colusa County Board of Supervisors, Cal Fire officials – including Russ Folwer, Operations Section Chief for the eastern division of the Ranch Fire – were on hand to give an update to the board. Supervisor Gary Evans reported that four dwellings, 20 outbuildings, five RVs, and six water tanks had been destroyed by the Ranch Fire in the area of Goat Mountain Road, where he resides himself.

“But what was saved were 10 dwellings, 13 outbuildings, and five water tanks,” Evans said, crediting grant-funded preventative work that had previously been done around those structures as the reason they were still standing.

Evans broke down as he described firefighters’ efforts to hold the line at Goat Mountain Road.

“As Russ said, yesterday’s backfire that went from Cook Springs to Goat Mountain Road – it would have been real nice to have a camera, because it was textbook. Absolutely textbook,” Evans said.

“So,” he added through tears as the room fell silent: “Well 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