Residents Anxiously Waiting to Return Home Crowd into Lake County Emergency Meeting

CLEAR LAKE -- As firefighters continue to battle the Mendocino Complex fires, the thousands of people who have been evacuated are waiting to find out when they can return home, demanding answers from firefighters at a community meeting Tuesday morning.

"We have over 2,000 firefighters working on the incidents to try to get you back home to your home safely and put this fire out," one firefighter told residents.

For the people who live near Clear Lake, evacuation orders are nothing new.

"We've evacuated four times in the last eight years," Jack Smalley, a Spring Valley resident.

But even those who are used to wildfires burning in their backyards say it doesn't make it any easier.

"I think everybody's first instinct is uncertainty, you know, in fear of losing what they have," Smalley said.

So it's no surprise it was standing room only when evacuees had a chance to talk with the firefighters whose hands they left their homes in. Most of them wondered when it will be safe to check on their properties.

"We're not out of the woods," a firefighter said. "That's why we can't repopulate those areas because we can't guarantee your safety."

Firefighters' main focus has been on protecting homes and buildings but they say they simply don't have enough resources to knock down the flames completely.

"Typically we would go at it all at once. There's just not the resources for that," a firefighter told the crowd.

Other major fires in Redding and Yosemite are pulling fire crews from across the state, leaving the firefighters near Clear Lake short-handed.

That's why the Lake County Board of Supervisors declared a state of emergency in hopes of bringing in some backup. But until crews get a better handle on the flames, thousands of evacuees face the task of finding a place to stay while they wait.

"Where do I go? You know, I got four dogs so that makes it hard to go even to a shelter right now," said Brenda Berdechowski.

Some still don't know if their house will be standing when they can finally return.

"The hard part's not knowing and not knowing whether today I should go out and start making arrangements to find a new place to live or not," Berdechowski said.

The Mendocino Complex is a combination of two fires burning to the west and north of Clear Lake. Firefighters say they don't think the two fires are at risk of merging right now.