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Firefighters gain on Calif. wildfires, but temperatures are rising

Firefighters made headway in preventing the growth of the Mendocino Complex, but officials warned that rising temperatures could create strong fire behavior


By Sarah Ravani
San Francisco Chronicle

MENDOCINO COUNTY, Calif. — Firefighters made promising headway Thursday in containing and preventing the growth of a relentless blaze that’s become the largest in state history, but officials warned that rising temperatures this weekend could create strong fire behavior.

The Mendocino Complex, which started July 27 and has scorched parts of four counties, reached a total of 370,294 acres by Thursday night, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

Firefighters made headway in preventing the growth of the Mendocino Complex, but officials warned that rising temperatures could create strong fire behavior. (Photo/AP)
Firefighters made headway in preventing the growth of the Mendocino Complex, but officials warned that rising temperatures could create strong fire behavior. (Photo/AP)

The blaze, which is made up of the Ranch and River fires, is 76 percent contained.

The River Fire, the smaller of the two blazes, has been fully contained for several days at 48,920 acres. However, the Ranch Fire, which alone has become the largest blaze in state history, had burned 321,374 acres as of Thursday night.

Firefighters secured containment lines Thursday in an attempt to hold the fire north of the Snow Mountain Wilderness in the Mendocino National Forest, Cal Fire said.

Temperatures have been lower this week, allowing firefighters to make progress, said Cary Wright, a Cal Fire spokesman at the Mendocino Complex.

“We had a couple of days that were favorable for the firefighters to get in and get some good work in,” he said. “The fire was a little more manageable because of the weather, so it allowed the crews to be more effective.”

But higher temperatures and low humidity this weekend have crews concerned that the fire could grow, Wright said.

Crews were planning to work overnight Thursday to protect the 1,025 structures and the Lake Pillsbury and Stonyford communities threatened by the wildfire, officials said. Those efforts continued to focus on the northwestern and northeastern parts of the fire, where the blaze is actively burning, Cal Fire said.

A procession was held Wednesday for 42-year-old Matthew Burchett, a Utah firefighter and the first person to be killed battling the blaze. Authorities are investigating the circumstances that led to his death.

Meanwhile, the Ferguson Fire near Yosemite remained steady at 96,810 acres — the same as the previous day — and was 87 percent contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

The Carr Fire in Shasta and Trinity counties grew by about 4,000 acres in the 24 hours ending Thursday night, Cal Fire said. The conflagration has blackened 215,368 acres and was 72 percent contained.

Firefighters strengthened containment lines overnight and doused spot fires, Cal Fire said.

On Wednesday, officials released new details regarding the death of the Redding firefighter killed July 26 while battling the Carr Fire. Jeremy Stoke was killed by a fire tornado that reached up to 165 mph, according to a report obtained by The Chronicle.

Copyright 2018 San Francisco Chronicle

Chronicle Staff Writer Peter Fimrite contributed to this report.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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