Firefighters in the North Bay are working to contain a blaze that has burned down scores of homes, ravaged more than 3,000 acres and forced mandatory evacuations in Lake County, Cal Fire officials reported.
The Clayton Fire ignited Saturday evening off Highway 29 near Clayton Creek and south of Lower Lake in Lake County, officials said.
More than 1,000 fire personnel in 122 engines were preparing for a difficult fight as the fire, which was only five percent contained as of Sunday, quickly ripped through heavy brush and nearly inaccessible terrain, Cal Fire said.
Marie Johnston was one of the people told to evacuate. She said she grabbed her dogs and left, although she heard that her house had not yet burned.
"It's really sad. I was really upset," she said. "I'm all done crying, being upset. I'm done with it. Gotta be strong and keep on going."
So far, officials have only been able to confirm that ten houses have been destroyed, although dozens of witnesses and onlookers claim the number must be at least twice that.
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.
Ironically, the Habitat for Humanity office was working to raise money to help rebuild homes destroyed by a devastating wildfire nearly a year ago.
St. Helena Hospital Clear Lake was evacuated because of the fire, and patients were transported to the Sutter Health facility in Lakesport.
"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.
Crews from the East and North Bay rushed to the scene to provide assistance. From Marin, 14 fire engines, 12 overheard command personnel and 11 members of an incident management team headed to help out. A strike team from San Francisco was also sent out, lending their expertise and five engines.
"We’re prepared to do whatever the incident would like us to do. We’ll focus on structure defense but we’ll assist in any way," said Tom Siragusa, the assistant San Francisco fire chief.
Cal Fire spokeswoman Suzie Blankenship said the fire was creating its own weather pattern and shifted direction Sunday afternoon into populated areas.
Mandatory evacuations have been put in place for several residences and an evacuation center is now open in Clearlake, a neighboring community of 15,000 Cal Fire reported. People living in the city of Lower Lake, along with southern portions of Clearlake, are being asked to evacuate immediately.
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In a statement, PG&E noted that it had at least 8,300 people without power per a Calfire request. All told, more than 20 power poles had been damaged by the fire and a spokesperson asked customers for patience as PG&E sorted through the outage.
"We will continue to assess damage to the infrastructure and we'll work to replace those polls and restore power as soon as it's safe."
The Clayton Fire comes on the heels of the devasting Valley Fire, a blaze that consumed more than 76,000 acres and ravaged 1,281 homes less than one year ago, according to Cal Fire.