New evacuations for parts of Lake County in wildfire

- Update as of 11:20 a.m. - Within last half hour mandatory evacuations from the Ranch Fire expanded to Clearlake Oaks. That includes the moose lodge on highway 20 where 350-400 evacuees are already staying.

As the two wildfires known as the Mendocino Complex hit 39% containment, new areas became threatened and new evacuations ordered.

"I wasn't expecting it today but I figured it would be at my back door again," said Rod Harper of Spring Valley, a community in Clearlake Oaks where word came at about 5 pm. 

"This is the Sheriff's office, mandatory wildfire evacuation," blared deputies, using loudspeakers as they drove the neighborhood off a few hundred homes. 

The heavy smoke plume from the Ranch Fire, overhead all afternoon, had become more ominous with afternoon wind pushing flames in the direction of the valley. 

"So how bad is it ?" asked one man, answering his door to a deputy's knock. A steady stream of cars, horse trailers and recreational vehicles flowed along New Long Valley Road toward Highway 20.

But some residents hesitated.

"I can buckle down here and ride it out," said the man. Responded the deputy: "you can stay, but we obviously don't advise that, we want to make sure you're safe."  

The Ranch Fire, at almost 84,000 acres is twice as large as the River Fire. It is also about one-third contained, while half the River Fire has a line around it. 

The Ranch Fire has been pushing pushing into the Mendocino National Forest, where fuels are ripe, but the north-westerly wind that kicked up Thursday evening made it a continuing threat to the Northshore communities of Upper Lake, Nice and Lucerne, which were already under evacuation orders. 

Spring Valley had not been in danger all week, but when the order came, it was eerily familiar 
Residents cleared-out a month ago, for a week, when the Pawnee Fire swept down out of the hills toward their homes. 

"We figure we're always ready for it, but I thought we were saved this time," said Lola Claypool as she packed her care to leave.

"We have a few things from the last fire that were right there," said Claypool, "and I never put them away. I don't unpack my bags, and I won't until the rain come."

Despite the continued air attack, backfire operations, and the efforts of hand crews and bulldozers, the fire keeps finding paths toward populated areas. 

"There's good sections where we have a lot of work done, but there's a lot of open line out there with a lot of land to burn still," said Cal Fire Captain Amy Head. 

Head notes part of the strategy may also be to burn the Ranch Fire toward the 15,000 acres of scorched land from the Pawnee fire, because if the new fire hits old containment lines and barren earth, it will be slowed or stopped. 

"Whichever way the wind blows is the way the fire goes," said Spring Valley resident Jim McDole, using sprinklers to saturate his roof before leaving. 

"It's bad for all our homes, but Cal Fire and Northshore Fire did an excellent job protecting us last time and we hope they're here to do that again."

In the Pawnee Fire, Spring Valley lost a dozen homes.   

Rod Harper was one of those survivors. 

"I've lost one house already, and I've got animals here," Harper told the deputy arriving to alert him.

"I'm going to stay awhile and watch it."
After losing the home up-valley where he lived with his wife and two teeagers, Harper says he has turned his attention to the new victims of this new crisis. 

"Fifteen friends in upper lake who have lost their places, burned to the ground," he said grimly, "and those were people who had come and donated to me, 50 or 100 bucks."

He's philosophical about the possibility of being a victim twice.    

"There's nothing else to do, after you get burned down, you find the good in people." As the fire danger intensified for some, it eased for others.

Greater Lakeport re-populated as the evacuation order shifted from mandatory to advisory.  That allowed people to return home, freeing space in emergency shelters for the new evacuees to fill.  The total number of homes lost in the Ranch and River Fires is 16 as of Thursday. 
 

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