UPDATE, 9/9/20, 1:15 a.m. — Strong winds moving from northeast to southwest are forecasted to continue through today, and the red flag warning currently in place is supposed to extend until around 5 p.m. Wednesday evening — which means that conditions on the August Complex fires will remain to be very difficult and the fire is likely to continue its steady march west towards the populated areas of Mendocino County.
Residents of the Covelo area have posted photos to social media showing fire within about 10 miles of town. It should be noted that this fire is huge, but also quite narrow in some places, meaning that it extends a long distance across Lake, Glenn, Tehama, Mendocino and Trinity counties. It is possible that the fire may reach Humboldt County by morning, and the Kettenpom-Zenia Fire Department has urged residents to evacuate on their Facebook page, saying that the fire will reach Kettenpom in Trinity County.
This evening there was little new information concerning the August Complex. August Complex public information officer Katie Hooper said this evening that although they know they have increased fire activity due to the ongoing severe wind event, and that the fire has been spreading west, they don’t know exactly where the fire has spread and if containment lines have held. Because of the heavy smoke and wind, they haven’t yet been able to have aircraft fly over the fire and map it’s changes.
Additionally, there are not many firefighters on the ground right now. They have to stay away from the lines, as the winds are making the fire too dangerous to fight close by.
They hope to have more information tomorrow morning. An infrared flight is supposed to fly over the complex tonight. Infrared flights can fly high over the flames and smoke and provide imagery to map the fire. “We are hoping the infrared flight will be able to provide us with information about if and where the fire has grown,” said Hooper.
MENDOCINO Co., 9/8/2020 — With extreme weather including high winds, and single digit humidity, driving huge growth in the August Complex, new mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for areas east of Covelo.
“Mandatory Evacuation Order East of Covelo Area and All Mendocino National Forest areas within Mendocino County. Mandatory evacuation areas east of Covelo is West of Mendocino National Forest, North of Jack Hollow Creek and Thatcher Creek, East of the Middle Fork of the Eel River, South of Green Lambert Canyon through Bently Basin to the M1 and South of the M1, to include Timber Ridge, and Bentley Ridge, and Hayshed Basin. Use safest evacuation routes possible.”MCSO
If you have questions about your pets, you can call 707-234-6052.
Dangerous fire conditions persist
“Right now the weather is about as bad as it could be for fires,” said National Weather Service Fire Specialist Jeff Tonkin. It is dry, windy, and hot and forecasted to stay that way for the next 24 hours. Tonkin said that with current conditions, fires have the potential to rapidly move westward.
Relative humidity is around 5 to 15 percent. The average for this time of year is about 25 to 30 percent. Usually, the humidity goes up at night, but due to a large dry air mass floating above the Mendocino area, the humidity values are staying down, making it even easier for fuel to catch and fires to spread quickly.
Powerful winds began blowing in Mendocino National Forest around 10 p.m. last night. Tonkin said that in general, winds right now are moving 10 to 15 miles an hour, but 40 to 50 mile per hour gusts whipped through higher elevations and over ridges this morning. Tonkin said this wind speed has been pushing the fires westward. Now, the winds have slowed, sticking closer to 10 miles an hour. “But with how hot and dry it is, the fires will still be moving,”
The winds in Mendocino National forest roared through the night, blowing from the southwest to the northeast. Throughout the morning, the winds began switching directions, making their way around the compass. The winds are now blowing to the southwest.
But before the winds made a 180 switch in direction, they were able to substantially spread the fire to the north, south, and west. This resulted in new evacuation warnings, orders, and forest restrictions
August Complex public information officer Anne Grandy said that with the strong and unpredictable weather, it’s almost like a new fire. “You don’t know where it’s gonna go, it’s all hands on deck and everyone is watching and trying to create a plan to anticipate what the future will look like,” she said.
“That’s the reality of a wind event,” Grandy continued. “We’ve been preparing for it for a week, we knew it was coming, and now here it is and we just react to what happens. When a big wind event happens, things change quickly. Dry air, wind, complicated factors, that’s what fire management deals with. But there’s nothing they can do to prevent the wind, raise the humidity, and lower the temperatures, they just deal with what’s at hand and make a plan.”
The U.S. Forest Service has closed all campgrounds, picnic areas, and day use areas in Mendocino National Forest.
Last night, Lake Pillsbury evacuation warnings turned to orders. The evacuation order for the Lake Pillsbury area now includes the entire Lake Pillsbury basin, areas north of Pack Saddle Creek, south of the Lake County line, west of the Lake County line, and east of the Lake County line. You can find the full evacuation order on the Lake County Sheriff Department’s Nixle.
Currently, the August Complex is recorded to be 356,312 acres and 24 percent contained.
Due to heavy wind and smoke conditions, no helicopters have been able to fly over the fire since yesterday evening to calculate the complex growth. There are also no flights scheduled for today. However, new evacuation orders indicate that the Doe fire, the largest fire in the complex, has grown substantially.
The Hopkins fire, which is north of Doe fire, is now almost 20,000 acres. Grandy said over the phone that the Hopkins, which has been mostly burning in the Yolla-Bolly Middle Eel Wilderness and Shasta-Trinity National Forest spread to the west and the north overnight, moving into Six Rivers National Forest.
Grandy said August Complex fire crews are monitoring the fires, focusing on areas near structures.
However, resources are stretched thin. Firefighters are timing out. Firefighters are allowed to work 16 hour days for two weeks before they must take two days off. “People are timing out and we don’t always get someone put back in,” Grandy said.
August Complex operations have requested more resources, but with the massive amount of fires burning in California, the National Interagency Fire Center can’t always provide them with everything they request. “Everyone has a red flag warning right now, everything is committed,” said Grandy. “We have to use what we have and find the priority areas.”