Pawnee fire grows in Lake County

Shelters for Pawnee fire evacuees

Lower Lake High School, 9430 Lake St., Lower Lake, is the official shelter established for people evacuating from the Pawnee fire. It is equipped to handle animals.

The Clearlake Oaks Moose Lodge, 15900 E. Highway 20, Clearlake Oaks, is not authorized by the Office of Emergency Services but is also sheltering fire evacuees, mostly people in campers and RVs who want their animals with them.

There is an authorized Lake County animal services station in an open field at Highway 53 and Anderson Ridge Road in Lower Lake.

A wildfire in eastern Lake County grew overnight from 1,000 acres late Saturday to 1,500 on Sunday morning, threatening 600 structures as multiple fire agencies attacked the uncontrolled blaze.

Twelve homes were destroyed as the Pawnee fire burned unchecked Sunday afternoon in the Spring Valley area northeast of Clearlake Oaks, sending a plume of smoke towering into the sky and showering ash over the surrounding region.

“Spring Valley people are scared to death of these fires, and we have just begun fire season,” said resident Sherre Prior, 74, who was evacuated from her three-bedroom home at Spring Valley and Wolf Creek roads around midnight Saturday. “There is only one way in and one way out of this valley.”

Urged by her neighbor, longtime Spring Valley resident Gigi Armitage, Prior — who said her hearing is impaired — finally packed up some belongings and her service dog and left, she said.

“I’ve never seen flames like this,” said Armitage, 53, who has lived in Spring Valley for 18 years. “They were really thick and red, and they were moving. You could hear the snapping of the burning trees and the bang of people’s propane tanks.”

Residents were being directed to a shelter established at Lower Lake High School, although many drove their campers and RVs to an unofficial shelter at Clearlake Oaks Moose Lodge. Prior, Armitage and about 150 other evacuees were housed Saturday night at the Clearlake Oaks Moose Lodge, and were advised by authorities to stay Sunday night.

“They tell me my home is OK, and the fire shifted direction, but they’re telling us to stay again tonight, because they’re expecting 40 mph winds,” said Prior, who moved to the Spring Valley area from Santa Rosa less than a year ago. “You can still see spots of fire up on the hills.”

The fire broke out at 5:23 p.m. Saturday. Low humidity, erratic winds and unseasonably warm temperatures allowed the fire to burn actively overnight, Cal Fire reported Sunday morning.

“Weather is definitely a contributing factor to this fire,” said Matt Mehle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “The weather has been hot, dry and windy, which is a recipe for fires.”

Winds picked up speed on Sunday, while temperatures remained hot, making conditions difficult for firefighters. The Clear Lake area was swept by 28 mph winds Sunday, up from 17 mph winds on Saturday, weather service meteorologist Steve Anderson said. Temperatures dipped only slightly to 96 degrees on Sunday, down from 98 on Saturday.

The National Weather Service extended a red flag warning until 8 p.m. Sunday. Such warnings are issued during dangerously hot, windy or dry conditions that cause fires to erupt and grow rapidly. Temperatures in the fire zone are expected to drop into the mid 90s on Monday, while winds will subside to 5 to 10 mph, Anderson said.

“If you’re looking for a weather comparison with the wildfires that swept Sonoma County last October, this is not remotely similar. This more like normal summertime fire conditions,” Mehle said. The October fires were spurred by extremely high winds.

The fire was moving east toward Indian Valley Reservoir on Sunday afternoon. Authorities closed Walker Ridge Road at Highway 20, on the east side of the reservoir, said Dale Carnathan, emergency services manager for Lake County.

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