Lake County wildfire prompts mandatory evacuations

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Monday, August 15, 2016
Lake County wildfire prompts mandatory evacuations
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Flames racing through dry brush today destroyed at least four homes and forced more than 1,000 people to evacuate from the Lower Lake area in Lake County.

LOWER LAKE, Calif. -- Crews are battling a raging wildfire that has destroyed at least 10 homes and caused 4,000 people to evacuate their homes in the Lower Lake area of Lake County on Sunday.

PHOTOS: Massive wildfire forces evacuations in Lake County

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Damin Pashilk , the man accused of starting the Clayton Fire in Lake County, Calif. appears in court on Wednesday, August 17, 2016.

The wildfire has charred at least 3,000 acres and is five percent contained.

The fire reached Main Street in Lower Lake, a town of about 1,200 about 90 miles north of San Francisco, and burned the post office, a winery, a Habitat for Humanity office and several businesses as thick, black smoke loomed over the four-block strip.

Authorities ordered about 1,200 residents to leave 500 homes as the blaze surged east of the town of Lower Lake.

Firefighters are working to carry animals out of a Lake County community that was evacuated during the devastating Valley Fire that broke out last year.

Crews from Novato are helping battle this raging wildfire. "This fire has become very active this afternoon, growing in size and threatening hundreds of additional homes," Cal Fire spokesperson Daniel Berlant said. "This afternoon, we've worked closely with the Lake County Sheriff's Department as well as the Clear Lake Police Department to evacuate all of the community of Lower Lake as well as the southern portion of Clear Lake."

More evacuations were ordered Sunday afternoon in the Copsey Creek subdivision, northeast of Lower Lake, where the blaze jumped a containment line, setting several houses on fire and prompting firefighters and volunteers to evacuate horses, goats and other animals as homes burn around them.

Houses burned on both sides of Highway 140 and propane tanks exploded, making a hissing noise and spewing balls of fire. Firefighters and volunteers rushed to carry two goats at a time out of the area, as tractors and utility poles burned and bumpers melted off cars.

More than 700 firefighters are battling the 2-square-mile wildfire burning east of Highway 29 in Lake County, and many more are expected to join the fight throughout the day, Berlant said.

The fire was throwing embers and spreading rapidly because of parched conditions brought on by the state's historic drought, officials said.

PHOTOS: Crews battle massive 2015 Valley Fire

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Some of the materials found in Middletown, Calif. that the Environmental Protection Agency deemed hazardous Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015.

Large, explosive fires have torn through dried-out or hard-to-reach areas across California this summer, including a stubborn blaze near the picturesque Big Sur coastline that has burned 113 square miles since late July and destroyed nearly 60 homes.

Californians braced for heat Sunday, with high temperatures expected to soar 10 degrees above normal in the southern part of the state. Some counties in far Northern California also were warned of gusty winds and increased fire danger, officials said.

In Lake County, the fire threatened the houses of an additional 3,000 people in Hidden Valley Lake, a subdivision south of the blaze. Residents of the area have been told to stay vigilant in case they need to evacuate, Blankenship said.

Danielle Colbeck, 36, saw the flames from her home Saturday and decided to get out. She told the Press Democrat newspaper in Santa Rosa that she loaded her car with her two cats and important papers and headed to a friend's house. "When you see black smoke and flame from your driveway, you don't want to take a chance," said Colbeck, who lost her rental home and all of her belongings in the massive fire that evacuated Lower Lake last year.

That blaze killed four people and destroyed more than 1,300 homes. It was considered California's third-most-destructive wildfire after ravaging most of rural Lake County and parts of Napa County about 90 miles north of San Francisco. A report issued this week concluded that faulty wiring in a hot tub ignited the 120-square-mile fire.

Another blaze that broke out Saturday afternoon forced the evacuation of 135 homes south of Lake Nacimiento in central California, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's office said. It burned more than 2 square miles, but no homes have been lost, and it's partially contained.

In Southern California, residents were readying for a heat wave and gusty winds. Temperatures were expected to reach triple digits, stoking an increased risk of wildfires across the mountains of Ventura and Los Angeles counties through at least Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.

Mandatory evacuations ordered per the Clearlake Police Department for residents located in what is commonly known as the Chapman Tract. This area is located east of Highway 53 in the "Avenues."

The Highland Senior Center and Twin Pine Casino & Hotel are two evacuation centers that are open for those affected by the wildfire burning in the Lower Lake area.

For those wanting to donate items to the evacuation centers, they are not accepting donations at this time. Information concerning where monetary donations will accepted will be forthcoming.

Click here for full coverage on the Clayton Fire and click here for full coverage on last year's Valley Fire.

ABC7 News contributed to this story.