A wind-driven wildfire tore through rural Lake County in Northern California over the weekend, scorching 7,700 acres, prompting evacuations and destroying a dozen structures by Sunday afternoon while threatening hundreds more.
Residents of roughly 600 homes in the remote area were ordered to pack up and leave. Those who stayed behind were urged to limit their water usage so it could be conserved for firefighting.
Authorities ordered all of the small community of Spring Valley to evacuate Saturday evening, and on Sunday expanded the order to include residents who live north of Highway 20 between Old Long Valley Road and Round Ball Road, according to the Lake County Sheriff’s Department and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Dubbed the Pawnee fire, it was one of several fires burning in the region, where a red flag warning was in effect. The fire erupted shortly after 5 p.m. Saturday northeast of Clearlake Oaks in Lake County, roughly 70 miles north of Napa. Firefighters faced triple-digit heat as the blaze burned through steep, mountainous terrain covered by thick brush.
“Right now, there’s fire burning actively in the hills behind all these homes,” Capt. Jordan Motta of Cal Fire said late Sunday. “There’s fire right up to people’s homes around here.”
It’s unclear how many, if any, of the dozen destroyed structures were homes.
The blaze more than doubled Sunday afternoon when an onshore flow brought cooler temperatures and stronger winds from the Bay Area, at times gusting at up to 20 mph.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” said Craig Shoemaker, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service out of Sacramento, adding that winds were expected to subside after 10 p.m. “We need those winds to die down.”
Two water-dropping helicopters helped douse flames, allowing firefighters on the ground to get closer to the fire’s edge and attack flames directly.
More than 230 firefighters responded to the blaze.
Sheriff’s officials reminded residents who are evacuating to pack pets, phones and computers, prescriptions, photos and paperwork and urged residents to close their doors and windows before leaving. A shelter was opened at Lower Lake High School at 9430 Lake St.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.