Lake County's Cache Fire is no longer a threat

Lake County's Cache Fire is no longer a threat: 40% contained and kept to 83 acres.

But within that relatively small footprint, 56 homes were lost and the number is expected to go higher. 

"Certainly life has changed for everyone around there," said Clearlake Police Chief Andrew White, who participated in a Thursday evening fire briefing at City Hall.

"We recognize the tremendous impact to the community."

Wednesday's wind-driven fire started in wildland and raced into a neighborhood just a half mile away.

About 15 homes were lost on one side of Dam Road, but the bulk of the destruction occurred in two mobile home parks, Creekside Park hardest hit.

The day after the fire, crews tallied and inspected each lot.   

All told, 140 homes and outbuildings were destroyed along with 160 vehicles.

One resident suffered burns and was airlifted to a hospital.

No one else was injured, despite the frantic evacuation with fire spotting ahead and spreading through tree canopies.  

Residents returning to Clearlake find destroyed homes in Cache Fire

"When we were going door to door, folks were trying to grab their stuff, but there was no time," said White.

At one point, one of the department's police cruisers bottomed out and had to be towed before it burned up.

"You could feel the heat in waves, crazy hot," said James Tindell, who lives across Cache Creek from the mobile home park.

"We were here the whole time and it was pretty devastating, hearing all the propane tanks explode."

Many homes in the area are equipped with roof sprinklers and have pumps to pull water from Cache Creek if needed.

This season, their firehoses are of little use; the drought-starved creek doesn't have enough depth to be of much help.

"We had to put out spot fires ourselves all around," said Tindell, "and we went up on our neighbor's roof and put fire out."

As some residents count their blessings, others absorb a huge loss.

"I came back last night, I snuck in the back way," said a resident who gave his name as A.J.

He and a friend entered the smoldering neighborhood in darkness to learn the fate of their homes.

MORE: A look at 3 California wildfires: Dixie, Caldor, Cache

His friend's place survived but A.J.'s did not.

He was away doing errands when it burned.

"On our way we back saw smoke and I thought it was actually out further, then we realized how close it was, but we were blocked and couldn't get in."

The area remains too dangerous for anyone to return, as fire crews root out embers amid falling trees and power poles, plus a water system in ruins.

With hotels around Clear Lake booked, people are living in recreational vehicles if they have one.

"I'm going up to Wal Mart, you know wally-world it's the best thing," said Mark Collier, driving his motorhome out of the neighborhood.

His home survived, but lacks power.

"I'll set up in their parking lot and wait until they open it back up in here," said Collier. 

An aggressive ground and air attack kept the fire from spreading to a massive apartment complex in the same area.

Lower Lake Elementary School was also threatened when an ember travelled about a mile and started a fire across the street from the campus.

The school went into lockdown, then evacuated the students.  

Burned trees and bright pink retardant stains are what's left from a hectic couple of hours.

"The speed and pace of these fires are mind-boggling," said Jacqueline Snyder, who heads the Board of Directors of the Lake County Fire Protection District.

Snyder had to retrieve her own children from school amid traffic jams and road-closures.

"Now that it's over we're definitely hearing stories about heroics, police and fire getting in and getting people out," said Snyder.

Like other officials, she is relieved that the fire was halted and there was no loss of life.

"While the damage is extensive and devastating  we definitely feel it could have been a lot worse."

While the fire was still burning, some residents were pointing to a nearby homeless camp as a possible origin.

"It definitely looks like it started in an area where there are some vehicles parked," said Chief White.

After past fire, concrete barriers have been installed along roads in the area to discourage camping.

CalFire investigators will make a final determination into the fire's cause. 

"It is our understanding that it may be associated with an RV In that area, that's what initial reports indicate," said White.

Clearlake has declared a local State of Emergency, to request state and federal aid.

There is also concern about debris polluting Cache Creek, which flows into farmland downstream.