County Fire burns 86,000 acres, Lake Berryessa campers evacuated for 4th of July

After days in the single digits, containment of the County Fire jumped to 27 percent by Wednesday evening, but its size ballooned even bigger as well: 86,000 acres. 

With calmer, cooler weather conditions, crews were able to harness fire to their own advantage, lighting backfires to burn-out fuels.

But what was good for the firefight sent the few remaining tourists near Lake Berryessa, packing. 
Canyon Creek Resort was deserted, except for fire engines. 

Campsites and picnic tables along Putah Creek were empty. 

Stragglers trying to enjoy the area, despite an evacuation order, were driven out by the smoke and CalFire's admonishments to leave. 

"Conditions are unpleasant for them and it's dangerous for the firefighters, who are working on the roadway, when people try to go,"  said CalFire information officer David Clark. 

"It is disappointing for the tourism but in the large aspect of things, we're going to make this a much safer community," said Clark, "and we'll return it to state of normalcy in a few weeks."

CalFire is estimating full containment of the County Fire on Tuesday July 10. By that time, the 4th of July holiday will be a memory, and a disappointing one for resorts nearest the fire.  

"This is nature, it's this is how things work around here, obviously the timing is bad" said Chad Frazier, General Manager of Markley Cove Resort.

It sits on the edge of a Highway 128 roadblock, and Tuesday, it was so quiet, Frazier sent his 23  employees home, with pay.  

A normal July 4th week, would see more than 100 boats launched daily from the Markley Marina. 
But sitting in the shadow of flames and heavy smoke, holiday visitors have canceled, 

Jet skis, kayaks, rental boats, and cabins all sit, unused.  

"Did we wish everyone was here, having a good time? Of course, but it is what it is," said Frazier, "and everybody's safe, so we'll get through it."  

Helicopters, visible from the Marina, were buzzing the canyons over the lake, but instead of dropping water, were dropping ping pong size balls filled with combustible chemicals to ignite fire, and burn brush to the water's edge.  

Frazier was sticking around the quiet resort, in case anyone inside the evacuation are needs assistance. 

His family has owned the compound since the 1960's.

"We're out here in the middle of nowhere, there's no cell service, nothing, it's just a fact of life out here," he said philosophically. 

And fire crews were not envisioning vacation either, at least not anytime soon. 
There are almost 3,000 personnel on the fire, including the hot shot teams that executed the ten mile stretch of backfiring, that burned down to Highway 128, making the pavement an even wider firebreak. 

"Last year we went to 30 fires, that's about average," said Matt Stanford, of the El Dorado Hot Shots, near Pollock Pines in the Sierra. 

"This is our fifth fire since the start of June, so to have this many large fires already, hopefully it doesn't get any worse than this."

Following up behind, to clear and cool the hot embers from the firing operation, were crews from all over California. 

"We're all tired, but we get out here as a team, and lift each others spirits up," said firefighter Sean Massa of Anaheim Fire and Rescue. 

His crew is not even halfway through a 21 day stretch. They were on the Pawnee Fire in Lake County before this one. 

"It's something everyone here is passionate about," said Massa, "and whether we're in our own backyard or on the other end of the state, we're always happy to help."