California Wildfires Destroy Homes, Hundreds Evacuate
FLASH: Authorities say a 40-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of starting a massive wildfire that destroyed more than 175 homes, business and other structures in the Lower Lake area of Lake County. Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin said Damin Anthony Pashilk of Clearlake, California was arrested Monday on 17 counts of arson and is in jail. The charges will likely be enhanced because homes and businesses were destroyed. Mr. Pashilk has been arrested at least a 12 times before mostly for parole violations, but also on drug and weapons charges.
A raging wildfire that has destroyed more than 175 buildings in Northern California grew to 4,000 acres Monday, forcing residents to flee their lake community as homes and businesses burned to the ground.
By Monday evening, the Clayton fire was only 5% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Gov. Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency for Lake County, where the wildfire has forced the entire community of Lower Lake, a 100 miles north of San Francisco to evacuate. The Governor’s order will help expedite aid to those affected by the fire.
The wildfire broke out late Saturday afternoon off Highway 29 and Clayton Creek Road, then doubled in size Sunday as it reached Main Street in Lower Lake. There, flames ripped through the US Post Office, a winery, a Habitat for Humanity office and several other businesses. Sixteen patients at a hospital in nearby Clearlake had to be transferred to a facility about 25 miles away.
“You can’t imagine what took place,” Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean said. “There was extreme fire behavior and winds that pushed it across the road into structure after structure after structure. We had airplanes dropping retardant, helicopters dropping thousands of gallons of water — trying to get ahead of this.”
After destroying 4 homes before sunrise Monday, the pace of the fire’s growth slowed, according to Lake County law enforcement officials. Firefighters spent the day working to bulldoze a ring around the fire area, while helicopters and tankers dropped retardant and water.
The count of destroyed structures remained at 175, mostly concentrated in Lower Lake’s small, single-street commercial district. But along the wooded ridge behind the shoreline community, dark plumes rose occasionally during the day, a signal that flames overtook another structure or vehicle.
The state’s lingering drought has hit Lake County particularly hard and contributed to the rapid spread of flames, fire officials said.
Daytime high temperatures in Lake County, near the fire, are expected to hover around 100 degrees through mid-week, said Eric Kurth, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento. By Thursday, the area should cool slightly, with high temperatures Friday and through the weekend projected in the lower 90s, he said.
The evenings are expected to be cooler, with temperatures forecast in the upper 60s, but they’re “definitely warm evenings,” Kurth said.
“It’s nothing that’s extraordinary, not record-setting, but it is hot — it’s seasonably hot,” Kurth said.
The Clayton fire is burning in an area between last year’s devastating Valley, Rocky and Jerusalem fires, which broke out around the Lower Lake area.
Nearly 200 people forced out of their homes in Lower Lake spent Sunday night in an American Red Cross shelter set up at Twin Pine Casino & Hotel in nearby Middletown, a town that was itself ravaged by the Valley Fire, one of the worst fires in California history, just 11 months ago.
The Clayton fire is 1 of several wildfires burning throughout California.
The combination of very hot, dry and windy conditions increases the potential for wildfires in the mountains of Ventura and Los Angeles counties, as well as in the foothills in Antelope Valley, said Rich Thompson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Several Southland communities saw triple-digit temperatures over the weekend, including Van Nuys, Chatsworth and Palm Springs. Sunday, temperatures hit 104 in Woodland Hills and 111 in Thermal.
Remember, take extreme care when traveling in fire danger zones, lives and property depend on it.