Saturday brought hot, windy conditions to dry brush, grass and trees in the path of both the Ranch and River fires, which combined grew to nearly 230,000 acres, making them the state’s largest active fire and now the sixth-largest blaze on record in California, according to Cal Fire.
The Ranch fire, which continues to expand into the Mendocino National Forest above Clear Lake, was responsible for most of that growth. Cal Fire said the Ranch Fire — the larger of the Mendocino Complex fires — had gone from 115,250 acres to 181,343 acres in almost 24 hours.
Together, the fires have scorched nearly 360 square miles, roughly one-third the size of Sacramento County.
Evacuation grew throughout the day with wide swaths of northern Lake County getting orders to leave. Advisories were also posted for parts of Glenn County.
“(Friday) night there was poor relative humidity recovery from the day and both fires continued to remain active overnight,” reported Cal Fire officials in the latest fire incident report.
Cal Fire said “low fuel moisture” and ridge top winds are driving the fires. The northwest portion of the Ranch Fire is likely to burn further through the national forest while settling in drainages south of Lake Pillsbury.
While the Ranch Fire grew by almost 60 percent, the River Fire grew by only 10 percent as of Saturday morning. That fire, which is currently burning west of Lakeport, between Highways 20 and 175, had grown to 47,663 acres during the past 24 hours — an increase of almost 5,000 acres.
Cal Fire said most of the River Fire’s growth is on the north end of the blaze, toward Cow Mountain and Scotts Valley Road. The fire has already scorched a large segment of the South Cow Mountain Recreation Area.
The Mendocino Complex fires are now larger than the Carr Fire in Shasta and Trinity counties, which had reached 145,015 acres by 7 p.m. Saturday. While the Mendocino Complex fires are considered the sixth-largest in size, the Carr Fire is the sixth-most destructive fire in California history, according to Cal Fire.
They have not, however, merged, as was reported on social media.
A tweet sent out around 9 p.m. Friday by a federal-state cooperative of hotshots had erroneously said the fires had merged.
Cal Fire spokeswoman Heather Williams said Friday night that the fires had not merged — and that the fires were 4 to 5 miles apart as of 10 p.m. Friday. The hotshots, known as California Interagency Incident Management Team 1, had subsequently deleted the post and apologized for the mistake:
Lake County Sheriff’s Lt. Corey Paulich said that as of Saturday morning, the fires had displaced an estimated 16,500 Lake County residents, mostly along the north shore of Clear Lake. That number was expected to grow as evacuations were added throughout the day.
Many areas north of Highway 20 were ordered out, including Lucerne, Pepperwood Grove, Paradise Valley, Glenhaven and Clearlake Oaks, as well as Scotts Valley, Blue Lakes, Upper Lake, Bachelor Valley and Nice. Mandatory notices were also issued for the Stonyford area in Colusa County.
Areas in south Lake County under evacuation advisories include Spring Valley and the Lake Pillsbury basin.
Paulich said shelters at Lower Lake and Middletown high schools are currently at capacity. Officials opened additional shelters at Middletown Middle School and Mountain Vista Middle School in Kelseyville, as well as Colusa County Veterans Hall.
Paulich said it is still too early to gauge when north shore evacuations might be lifted.
The ongoing assessment of damage caused by the two fires as of Saturday put the number of destroyed structures at 55 homes and 49 other buildings. More than 15,000 structures remain threatened.