Update: Lodge Complex Fire 7:30 a.m. Aug. 6

Aug. 6 @ 7:30 a.m. update

Fire is up to 4,000 acres and 20 percent contained. There are 43 structures considered threatened; 1,263 fire personnel assigned including 101 fire engines, 28 fire crews, 38 bulldozers, 14 helicopters and 27 water tenders. The fire continues to burn in heavy timber on steep rugged terrain and little land access.

The fire has spread east along the Eel River Canyon and has moved within a mile of the Big Gend Lodge area, along Low Gap Creek. Fire personnel and equipment are working to construct a fire line along the norhtern boundary of the fire.

A Laytonville community meeting is scheduled for Aug. 6 at 6 p.m. in Harwood Hall to brief the community on the current fire situation.


Firefighters continue working to contain the Lodge Complex Fire, which is burning in heavy timber northwest of Laytonville, and south of Leggett, in the Wilderness Lodge Area. As of Tuesday the fire, which was caused by lightning on July 30, had torched more than 3,527 acres, and is considered 15 contained. There are no injuries reported, and there are 31 engines and 27 fire crews totaling 966 people fighting the fire from across the state.

The fire is localized in the Elkhorn Ridge Wilderness, a Bureau of Land Management (BLM), section of rugged forest, and is 90 percent situated on public land, though it is slowly spreading along the South Fork Eel River Canyon. As of Monday it had only come within about two miles south of Higheay 101, and was threatening only 17 structures. It's is currently being fought with 14 helicopters, provided primarily by the California Air National Guard. There have been only a few drops by fixed winged aircraft. As an official at the BLM explained tanker planes need to fly within a wingspan and a half of the tree tops to accurately drop retardant, though the "really good pilots" can get in to about a single wingspan, but with the steep ridges and valleys in this area, such drops are both difficult and not especially helpful. As a result the planes have been directed to other sections of the state where they are deemed more useful.

Officers at CalFire point out that tanker planes can be above any part of the state within 20 minutes.

The fire has approached Elder Creek, which is variously claimed to be the cleanest creek in California and possibly within the continental United States. The watershed of the creek is contained mostly within a reserve run by UC Berkeley, and was deeded to the UC system by Heath Angelo many decades ago. A story circulated in the area is that Angelo built his roads too small to allow logging trucks to pass, as a way of keeping his land pristine. Locals laughed at the irony that the narrow roads in the area are now making it difficult for fire equipment to make it into the hills.

But firefighters from across the state are accustomed to tough conditions, and know how to make the best of the rugged terrain offered by Mendocino County. In such situations where terrain, and lack of roads, make access to a fire difficult, firefighters fight from ridgelines--bulldozing firebreaks, laying out hose line, and then setting back-fires to clear out underbrush, or as they say to reduce the fuel load, allowing them to control the progress of the fire and contain it within this remote wilderness area. Though UC Berkeley denied firefighters permission to run dozer lines through the reserve, they found other ridge tops, and natural breaks to run "contingency lines" that would assure containment.

Up on the ridge lines the scene was calm, as bulldozers, engines, and tenders struggled to get past each other on a single track dirt road, backing up, and turning off to allow other equipment to pass. Crews from across the state were setting back fires down the slopes, away from the ridgelines, burning out underbrush, then following through with hoses and McLeods, the heavy duty half-hoe half-rake that firefighters employ on wildfires.

Monday, at a meeting at Harwood Hall, in Laytonville, a phalanx of fire, emergency and law enforcement officials, explained to the public the nature of the threats, and the progress of firefighters in containing this fire. Steve Kaufmann of CalFire explaining the role of CalFire, and fire departments from across the state, said, "We still treat this community like it's our own home." Engines from as far away as San Diego and Los Angeles are present at the scene, along with personnel from Oakland, Fresno, Ventura, and Lake County. Kaufmann explained earlier that the state of California has one of the most extensive and well-oiled mutual aid systems in the nation, primarily because it gets exercised so much.

Indeed, the California system of fighting fires, called the Incident Command System, first established in the mid-1970s, has become a model for fighting wildfires nationally, and even internationally. The system is a method allowing statewide forces to converge on a spot, cooperate with each other, and organize a joint effort at putting out a fire, without duplication, or disorganization. The system is what facilitated the construction of the huge base camp, just north of Laytonville.

Prior to the fire, the space was an unmowed hay field. In fact, the rancher began to mow his field just as firefighters began to arrive, finishing up at the end of the day, as the last of the tents and trailers were being pitched.

With the help of the California Conservation Corp, and other agencies, CalFire laid out a camp, over several acres, with mess halls, fuel centers, showers, sleeping areas, and every other necessity of keeping fighters prepared and on the job. Even during the stress of fighting a fire CalFire has made efforts to comply with the state's drought, leaving dusty dirt roads un-watered, and rolling up their hoses dirty, instead of wasting water on washing them.

At the meeting Sheriff Tom Allman explained that evacuation preparations are in place, and if such an evacuation should become necessary the sheriff's department will initiate their reverse 911 system, calling all landlines within a given area.

However, the system does not automatically call cell phones; Allman urged people to log onto the Mendocino Sheriff's website and register their cell phones to specific areas so that the reverse 911 system can reach them.

The sheriff further encouraged people to consider their animals in their perpetrations for possible evacuation, pointing out that people often do not consider where to house their horses and livestock, or to stock enough feed. The Redwood Empire fairgrounds in Ukiah is being left open, past the closing of the fair, in case animals need to be evacuated to those spaces. Saying that he wanted to address "the m-word" he added that the sheriff's will not go to great lengths to protect people's marijuana gardens.

All the officials at the meeting were calm and confident, deliberately explaining all the efforts being made. During the Q&A section of the meeting, Allman, read a question handed to him and raising his face back to the audience said, "The sky is not falling."