The Mendocino Complex Fire in Northern California is now the largest in state history, scorching 283,800 acres, Cal Fire reported Monday.
The 11-day-old blaze in mainly mountainous terrain near Clear Lake topped the Thomas Fire, which was the state’s largest for about eight months after burning through 281,893 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in December 2017 and January 2018.
Firefighters, though, increasingly have been encircling the Mendocino Complex Fire in recent days, and are now estimating they will have it fully contained in little more than one week. The fire has burned in three counties: Mendocino, Lake and Colusa.
After mass evacuations in the Clear Lake area last week, officials let more residents return to their homes on Sunday and Monday, and eased warning notices Monday at noon for residents in several areas as well.
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So far, the Mendocino Complex, which is made up of two nearby fires, the River and Ranch blazes, has consumed 75 homes and destroyed 68 other buildings, far fewer than the Thomas Fire in Southern California, which destroyed more than 1,000 homes. The denuded hillsides caused by the conflagration later led to coastal mudslides that killed 21 people.
Fire officials report the River Fire is now 58 percent contained, and firefighters are being transferred from there a few miles north to the larger Ranch Fire, which remained only 21 percent contained as of Monday evening, and continues to grow to the east and southeast.
Cal Fire operations chief Charlie Blankenheim said in a video update Monday morning on Facebook that success against the River Fire was due to “a very large aircraft show” Sunday. Fifteen to 18 helicopters made water drops out of Clear Lake, and 10-12 air tankers made drops throughout the day. “If today goes well, the River Fire is going to be in really good shape tonight,” he said.
Blankenheim said crews face “extreme fire behavior” near Stonyford in Colusa County, with 40 miles of open fire line extending northwest into the Snow Mountain Wilderness. The remote terrain presents “a huge challenge,” he said.
Having reached 235,000 acres as of Monday evening, the Ranch Fire continued to threaten residential communities, a Cal Fire incident update said.
Numerous evacuation orders and warnings remain in place for Lake, Colusa and Mendocino Counties.
Meanwhile, the Carr Fire in Shasta County has exceeded 164,000 acres and reached 47 percent containment as of Monday evening. Heavy timber and steep drainage continue to challenge firefighters, a Cal Fire incident update said. However, some areas are being repopulated.
The Carr Fire has also hit the state’s all-time charts for destruction. The fire has destroyed more than 1,600 structures, many of them homes in Redding, making it the sixth-most damaging in state history.
The Bee’s Kellen Browning contributed to this report.