Free Press Journal

Northern California wildfire forces 4,000 to evacuate


Lower Lake: A wildfire destroyed at least 10 homes and forced some 4,000 of people to flee their homes in two Northern California towns Sunday as flames jumped a road and moved into populated areas.

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.

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Staff at a hospital in Clearlake, a neighboring town of about 15,000, rushed to transfer 16 patients to another hospital 25 miles away while firefighters carried goats and other animals to safety as homes burned around them.

Officials confirmed 10 homes were burned, although eyewitnesses could see many more. Ironically, the Habitat for Humanity office was working to raise money to help rebuild homes destroyed by a devastating wildfire nearly a year ago. “Emotions are still incredibly raw from the Valley Fire,” said state Sen. Mike McGuire about last year’s wildfire. “I don’t think any of us thought we’d be back where we are tonight,” he said.

The fire broke out Saturday afternoon and grew to nearly 5 square miles as firefighters struggled to get a handle on the largely out-of-control blaze amid triple-digit temperatures and windy conditions. The fire was creating its own weather pattern and shifted northward into Lower Lake in the afternoon, said Suzie Blankenship, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

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

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Lower Lake residents evacuated last year because of a wildfire that 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. A report issued this week concluded that faulty wiring in a hot tub ignited the 120-square-mile fire, reported AP.

Lt Doug Pittman, a Marin County sheriff’s spokesman who was working on behalf of Cal Fire, said residents fled their homes very quickly this weekend. “They’ve seen it before,” Pittman told the San Francisco Chronicle.