Dying Winds Could Mean a Break for Crews Battling 13,000-Acre Pawnee Fire

LAKE COUNTY -- Containment on the Pawnee Fire in Lake County was increased from 5 percent to 17 percent Tuesday evening.

The Pawnee Fire has burned 13,000 acres and destroyed 22 structures, including 12 homes, according to Cal Fire.

Around 2,700 fire personnel are assigned to the incident. Crews have protected hundreds of structures that were threatened by the fire.

Flames continued to burn aggressively during the afternoon in the wildland east of Spring Valley and south of the Indian Valley reservoir. Helicopters were dropping water on hot spots while bulldozers were cutting wide containment lines in an effort to prevent the fire from jumping east into Colusa County.

Walls of flames, some flaring over 50 feet high, came charging down a ridge as temperatures warmed during the day Tuesday. It came within a few hundred yards of a staging area for firefighting equipment.

The fire wasn’t as bad as it looked because the fuels were mostly brush and dry grass. The advantage Tuesday was there were none of the erratic winds that helped spread the fire so quickly and firefighters are hoping overnight temperatures and humidity will cause the fire to sit still during the evening.

"They burn hot and fast and hopefully they’ll burn out quickly. So this is a much better fire than to be in the thick timber," said Cal Fire public information officer David Clark.

There were already fire lines cut into the area and bulldozers were brought in to extend them. Fire crews made a start along roads and natural terrain.

A fire line was set up just beyond the creek as the fire continued to burn along down the ridge.

Additional resources were brought in as the Lane Fire near Red Bluff came more under control.

"So if we can prevent a whole home from being lost by fly putting out a small a grass fire, we’d much rather have that fire engine sitting at a moment's notice to ready to fight fire," Clarke said.

Cal Fire says containment is slow but progressing. The exception is a break out that took place beneath Clear Lake headed toward Walker Ridge, where there are more scattered homes.

By nightfall, plumes of smoke were replaced by wispy columns as the fire appeared to "lay down" for the night.

Mandatory evacuations remained in effect Tuesday night for the entire Spring Valley community.

Evacuees Rush to Safety

An additional evacuation advisory has been issued in the Walker Ridge and Wildbur Springs area, as well as Bear Valley and Brim roads, after the Pawnee Fire broke toward the south and east of Clearlake.

"It’s never gotten that close before and it looked like we were in imminent danger," said evacuee Anna Middling.

So Middling and her family grabbed their cat and what they could carry and left their Spring Valley home at around 2 a.m. Sunday, turning up at the Red Cross evacuation center at Lower Lake High School.

"Some people are showing up with just the clothes on their back," said John McMahon with the American Red Cross.

It was a new experience for the Middlings. Although they've evacuated three times before, they usually stay in a motel but this year they didn’t have the money.

"I'm just grateful to have a place to go," said Glenn Middling. "It would have been just terrible if we was put out and didn't have nowhere to go."

The center also accepts four-legged family members to the relief of many evacuees, especially Annette Hendren.

"Last year I watched my house burn and my other dogs were in it and they burned. There was only one survivor," said Hendren.

Last year, Hendren says she didn’t evacuate from the Sulphur Fire when warned and three of her dogs died. Now, with three new dogs in tow, four total, she’s wondering how many more times she can go through this.

"Now this… I think we might move," Hendren said.

In the meantime, the evacuation center is home. The nearby Moose Lodge shelter was crowded. However, as of Tuesday morning, the Red Cross shelter was at less than one-third capacity and they encouraged people to come if they need to.

FOX40 did ask the evacuees if there’s anything else they need at this point. They say their basic needs are being met at the Red Cross shelter.