Crews make progress in Lake County fires

August 15, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Fire crews are continuing to make progress against fires in Lake County that, combined, have burned 7,000 acres and destroyed three structures, including one home. According to CAL FIRE, the blaze is now 60 percent contained.

What initially were two fires burning since Sunday, is now being treated as one fire that's burned five square miles. During the height of the fires, hundreds of homes were in danger.

Crews have been battling the flames primarily by air, which is the easiest access in the rugged, rocky country. It is a task made all the more difficult because of the intense summer heat and dry conditions. At least one firefighter suffered from heat exhaustion Tuesday. He left the fire zone by ambulance while the more than 1,100 other firefighters soldiered on.

"Depending on the weather conditions, the stability of the upper atmosphere, and things like that, we could have the fire behavior change quickly," CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Paul Van Gerwen said. "What they have had happen here the last couple of days is that exactly happening - where the fire does change, intensify, and we had spotting quite a ways out. And that's how the fire spread so quick."

The fire is now burning most ferociously toward the eastern side, near Walker Ridge, which is unpopulated and has plenty of open brush. This has allowed people along the western edge, in the Spring Valley area of Clearlake Oaks, to return home.

Traffic on and around Highway 20 was backed up Tuesday afternoon. The highway was filled with residents trying to get home after evacuations were lifted late Monday night. Some waited more than an hour for CHP to wave them through the fire zone.

And though progress was made Tuesday, CAL FIRE spokesperson Daniel Berlant says they expect that this will be a long fight, "We're still definitely looking days out from now. Even though we're making progress, there's still a lot of work that has to be done."

The last evacuation order in place for the Wye fire burning along the Lake and Colusa County lines has been lifted.

People living in the Wilbur Hot Springs area to return home were allowed to return home an hour ago.

Authorities may also re-open Highway 120 this afternoon.

The Wye fire broke out on Sunday and is now 70 percent contained. It's burned nearly 8,000 acres, destroying two homes and damaged one out-building.

Donation Information:
The American Red Cross is accepting donations to help people affected by the fires in Lake County. Visit www.redcross.org, call 1-800-RED-CROSS, text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation or mail donations to American Red Cross, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties, 5297 Aero Drive, Santa Rosa, CA 95403 or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.

(Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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