Rocky fire grows again, but with less ferocity as weather cooperates

The Rocky fire that has charred 45,000 acres since Friday did not show the same explosive growth overnight, providing some hope that progress could be made today to contain the destructive wildland blaze.

The fire is burning in the pines, brush and dry grass of Lake, Yolo and Colusa counties. The ferocity of the spreading blaze has stunned veteran firefighters as flames gobbled up acres over the weekend.

On Monday, firefighters reported that the fire had grown to 60,000 acres, an increase of 6,000 acres overnight. Containment, previously stuck at 5 percent since Friday, has now grown to 12 percent.

“There was not as much growth last night as we have experienced the last couple of days,” said Cal Fire Capt. Don Camp.

So far, 24 residences have been destroyed, but damage assessment teams were set to tour the blaze area so that number could jump on Monday. Also, 26 outbuildings have been leveled by the fire that broke out Wednesday.

About 12,000 people have been urged to evacuate from 5,200 homes. A total of 2,700 personnel were assigned to the fire with more firefighters on the way.

The so-called Rocky fire sat down a little bit overnight, a relief to firefighters who had watched it march unabated in dry brush left by the historic drought.

“We had pretty favorable weather conditions,” said Camp. “The temperature was lower and the humidity was up, which allowed us to get into areas we previously had not been able to get into.”

Defensible space was created overnight with back fires between the main fire and the Highway 16 and the Highway 20 corridor.

The wind was light in the fire zone Monday morning. But the big issue for firefighters is how active the fire may become later.

“On Sunday, when we had the fire double in size in five hours, it was creating its own wind,” Camp said. “But if the temperature stays down and the humidity stays up, and, if there are cooperative winds, today could be a turning point for our crews.”

As clouds of black and gray smoke billowed in the distant mountains behind Lower Lake High on Sunday, other residents from the town of 1,800 people anxiously scribbled down updates from fire officials and clung to one another. Authorities told residents to be ready for mandatory evacuations in case the fire approached homes.

“This is ominous to me. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Ken Newman, who was among 200 people, some stranded by the fire, who gathered at a community meeting Sunday afternoon at Lower Lake High School.

Newman, who lives in Sacramento, said his mother and extended family members in Lake County went to Sacramento so they could feel safe from the path of the flames.

On Saturday night, the fire forced the closure of a major interstate connector, Highway 20 between Interstate 5 in Williams and Highway 53 in Lake County. Highway 16 was also closed from Rumsey northward.

Though the blaze is only 12 percent contained, firefighters have kept the blaze south of Highway 20 and west of Highway 16, Cal Fire officials said. The Rocky fire was burning in three counties – Lake, Yolo and Colusa.

Elsewhere, the Lowell fire in Nevada and Placer counties had burned more than 2,300 acres by Monday. The blaze, which started July 25 in the Steep Hollow drainage area, was 85 percent contained.

Closer to the Rocky fire, the Wragg fire, which broke out July 22 near Lake Berryessa and Highway 128, had burned more than 8,000 acres by Monday. The Wragg was 95 percent contained Sunday.

Sacramento locals endured smoky conditions related to the Rocky fire on Sunday, said National Weather Service forecaster Karl Swanberg.

The city on Sunday reached a moderate reading for particulate matter, measuring 63 on the Air Quality Index at 2 p.m., according to the Sacramento Metropolitan Air District through the Spare the Air website.

Staff writer Brenna Lyles contributed to this report.

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