Upper Lake residents return home after Mendocino Complex Fires, but breathing isn't easy

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Upper Lake residents returned home Wednesday after Mendocino Complex Fire evacuations, but breathing wasn't easy. (KGO-TV)

Crews are still working to put out the Mendocino Complex Fires, but more residents are back in their homes.

The River Fire has burned 48,000 acres and is more than 80 percent contained. The Ranch Fire has burned 250,000 acres and is 46 percent contained.

RELATED: Evacuation orders Mendocino County's Complex Fire, Carr Fire near Redding

Combined, that's nearly 470 square-miles.

With the fire still burning, the air quality isn't great for people in the area.

Lake County measured progress against the Mendocino Complex fires by increments Wednesday.

"Yeah, as we left, we saw flames and it was a little disconcerting," said one resident.

LIST: Largest wildfires in California history

But being back doesn't always mean getting back. Exhibit A: when you beat your mailman to the post office. "Well, it's in the box but we can't get to it," lamented Diane Tunquist.

Exhibit B: When all you know and see remains obscured by smoke so thick that you might need a compass to find your bearings.

"I live on a mountain. I usually see everything for miles," said Wilma Wilder of Lakeport. "They are not visible right now."

"Is it a strange feeling?"


MAPS: Wildfires burning across California

This is what happens when the fires burn and smoke billows into the air. When winds die, that same smoke settles in this basin.

It is spectacularly unnerving. Pollution here averages less than 10 micrograms per cubic meter.

On Wednesday, Doug Gearhart from the Air Quality Management District measured it in excess of 100 -- unhealthy.

"We won't be number three anymore after this fire," said Doug.

The smoke is so thick that Lakeport has given away 2,500 respirator masks the past few days in a city of roughly 5,000.

Karen Thompson took three of them. "I was evacuated a week ago. Now I go out, come back. I don't do anything I don't have to."

These conditions will disappear when Lake County get some kind of a breeze.

But there's a trade-off. Those same winds might get these massive fires growing again.

RELATED: Mendocino Complex Fires creating poor air quality in Bay Area

Pick your poison.

Mandatory evacuations were reduced to an evacuation advisory for the communities of Upper Lake, Nice, Lucerne, Glenhaven, and Clearlake Oaks. Residents in these areas can now return home. Hwy. 20 is now open to all traffic.

CAL FIRE says it'll be another three and a half weeks before firefighters have the wildfires under control.

Get the latest on the Carr Fire here, the Complex Fire here and the latest on wildfires across California here.

Related Topics:
Complex Firewildfirehistorycal firefirefightersfiredestroyed homesevacuationNorthern CaliforniaCaliforniaLakeport
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