Smoke billows over the hills south of Leggett in northern Mendocino. [Photo by Elizabeth Turk]

The eastern flank of the Lodge Fire burning near Leggett made a run to the south today. According to Cal Fire, the blaze jumped the Eel River in two separate places. The fire is now at 4800 acres and still only 25% contained. 

Meanwhile, structures to the north near Leggett continue to be threatened. Fire crews are struggling in steep terrain to build fire lines to the north of the blaze as well as maintain existing lines. 

Smoke from the fire pouring into Laytonville and Legget has caused the Mendocino County Air Quality Management District to issue a warning that air pollutant levels are at “unhealthy” levels.

Smoke columns rising to the south of the small community of Leggett have residents on edge. Today’s meeting with Cal Fire drew over 100 people. Melissa Rosenthal, owner of the Redwood Mercantile where the meeting was held, said it was surprisingly well attended for such a sparsely populated area. 

Rosenthal said Mendocino Sheriff Tom Allman who spoke at the meeting is not calling for evacuations at this time but may be calling for them soon. According to her, Allman stated that his office may be calling in the next 24 hours with an evacuation warning and asked that residents call 707 463-4086 to check to make sure their addresses are registered with the reverse 911 system so they can be notified if necessary. [Cell phones may be registered here.]

Rosenthal said Cal Fire showed maps of the incident and described where fire lines were being cut. Officials explained to the residents that they hadn’t made fire lines to the northwest of the fire because there are a lot of sheer cliffs in the area which make dozer work nearly impossible. 

“To be honest there are no great great places to take that line to,” said a Cal Fire spokesperson. However, they do have work crews cutting in a line by hand.

Sheer cliffs between the fire and the Eel River. [Photo by Melissa Rosenthal.]

One of the options to create a fireline, Rosenthal said, was to do a “low and slow intensity backfire” to control which way the fire is heading. Right now winds blowing to the south have slowed its advance towards the community. Fortunately, Rosenthal said, “[According to Cal Fire, the blaze] has not burned much of the timber. It is burning really slow through the underbrush—not much crowning.”

Herb Roth, a fire commissioner with the Leggett Valley Fire Protection District asked Cal Fire officials, what the fallback position is if it gets past the Big Bend Lodge area.  The answer, Rosenthal said, was disconcerting. “The river is the fall back area.”

Cal Fire officials said that, based on computer models, the fire will hold at the river if it gets that far. “Not that it is guaranteed that we will catch it at the river, but we are confident,” said one of the officials. 

The community expressed concern that the river would not stop the fire because the river is so small in the area due to the drought and the unpredictable winds. “The winds can get really strong,” said Rosenthal.

The weather could add a twist to the already difficult situation. Rosenthal said that according to the Cal Fire meterologist, over the next day, the wind will continue pushing the fire to the south, slowing its advance but there will be warmer temperatures over the next several days and no rain in the immediate future.

Residents to the southeast of the fire have been experiencing increased smoke. Susan Barsotti, who lives in the northern part of Long Valley wrote, “The wind has been gusting a little, and today I saw ash falling outside our house.” She described last night’s fire meeting in Laytonville and conditions in her area,

[Mendocino Sheriff] Tom Allman talked about the “E” word, and reiterated he wasn’t going to issue any forced evacuations, only issue … warnings.  He’s allowing landowners to “make a last stand”, and added that once evacuated, people could return to their homes if needed.  

Sheriff Allman stressed again that people should stay tuned to local radio, rather than satellite, for fire updates. He mentioned that so far, firefighters have laid over 20 miles of hose at fire breaks.

Laytonville Water is continuing to withhold bulk sales, their capacity of filtered water was at 70% as of last night.  Bob [Barsotti’s husband] attended a meeting at their office yesterday, during which Jim Sheilds said that possibly restricted amounts of water would be available for regular customers today. As far as we know, that restricted access hasn’t been available yet.  

There is now an air quality monitor device in the valley, and interested folks can check the <> website for info. Long Valley Feed is taking donations for feed for displaced livestock.  

South Leggett is still the most impacted at this time, but firefighters were concentrating on protecting those residences, and no evacuations have been called.

It’s been very impressive to observe the fire crew in action.  There’s a clear chain of command, many skilled experts, and genuine caring for the local people.  It’s awesome, and I’m humbled to be hosting them on our land.

Smoke seen from Hwy 101 near Leggett. [Photo provided by Melissa Rosenthal.]

Previously on the Redheaded Blackbelt: