The Pawnee fire raging east of Clear Lake grew up to 11,500 acres on Tuesday morning, and containment remained at 5 percent, according the Cal Fire. No new structures reportedly burned overnight, leaving the amount at 22 — 12 homes and 10 outbuildings — and 600 structures still are threatened. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Lake County on Monday.
The fire force from Monday morning to Tuesday morning grew substantially with 1,422 people now on the fire up from 237, according to Cal Fire’s morning update.
Here’s the latest:
Fire officials hoping to slow the progress of the 11,500-acre Pawnee fire in Lake County are relying heavily on help from the air and on the ground, utilizing aircraft, bulldozers and more than 500 firefighters working by hand to carve fire lines in steep, rugged terrain.
The fire has moved out of the Spring Valley community, where it started Saturday, and on Tuesday was moving mostly east and south into more sparsely populated but very challenging landscape filled with dry grass, brush and oak woodlands.
More than 1,400 firefighters were on the lines by Tuesday morning, with more arriving through the day. Assigned resources included 35 hand crews, 58 bulldozers, 15 helicopters and air tankers dropping retardant, though the air tankers come and go to different wildfires where needed, Cal Fire officials said.
“It’s a lot of steep ground, unstable ground. Hard to get your footing,” Cal Fire Capt. Scott McLean said. “The ‘dozers can work in certain areas and the hand crews can work in certain areas that the dozers can’t.”
Though burning in an area with less dense development, officials warned the fire still had rural communities in its path. They included the Double Eagle Ranch subdivision between Indian Valley Reservoir and Highway 20, and areas east of Walker Ridge and along the western Colusa County border.
North Lake Fire Chief Jay Beristianos described Double Eagle Ranch as a very rural community of 30-to-50-homes without fire hydrants or maintained roads.
“Part of the fire brushed by the subdivision last night,” he said Tuesday.
He said crews were out during the night to prepare for a potential firefight there, cutting lines and ensuring that equipment could get in and out.
Fire crews trying to get a handle on the Pawnee fire in Lake County were getting a little help from the weather on Tuesday, with slightly lower wind speeds and temperatures and a small boost in relative humidity, the National Weather Service said.
Conditions for the next day or so should be relatively favorable to the firefight, or at least “going in the right direction, not a real improvement, but a little bit of improvement,” meteorologist Mike Kochasic said.
But the weather service already has issued a fire weather watch for the weekend, when temperatures are predicted to reach back up into the triple digits and forecasters expect to see the return of gusty conditions that contributed to the wildfire’s rapid spread on Sunday.
With 5 percent containment so far and no guarantee that short-term forecasts will hold true, the outlook for getting some containment on the fire before the next red flag warning remained uncertain. Winds forecast to be light on Monday turned out to be gusting and erratic, which meant both wind and fire direction were “super unpredictable,” Kochasic said.