STONYFORD — The Mill Fire continues to blaze in Mendocino National Forest west of Stonyford after consuming 18,985 acres in six days.
The fire, which started late Saturday outside the Mill Creek Campground, has burned outbuildings but no homes since it began, said Deb Schweizer, a fire education specialist for Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. About 1,100 firefighters have responded from throughout California and from neighboring states to the blaze.
It has cost $5 million to fight the Mill Fire, Schweizer said Thursday night.
Less than half of the 113 residents threatened by the fire in the Stonyford area have chosen to evacuate, said Tim Fike, the Northern California Team 2 deputy incident commander.
Three firefighters have been injured since the beginning of the fire, Fike said. One got food poisoning from a bad meal Monday, one suffered an eye scratch Tuesday, and one suffered heat exhaustion Wednesday.
The Stonyford area, which contains about 750 people, sees a blaze as large as the Mill Fire about every 10 years, said Barney Cook, Stonyford”s fire chief.
Firefighters had 40 percent of the blaze contained by late Thursday, Schweizer said. They expect to have the fire fully contained by July 20.
The Mill Fire and nearby Sites Complex came early in the fire season, signs of a busy year yet to come, Schweizer said.
“This could be a very long season,” she said. “But we don”t want it to be.”
The Sites Complex, about six miles southeast of the Mill Fire, is being fought by Cal Fire. The latest estimate Thursday morning put it at 4,185 acres. It was declared 100 percent contained about 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Firefighters got fire break on one flank of the Mill Fire when it erupted Saturday, but gusts of wind up to 25 mph took embers across the break, Schweizer said.
When reinforcement firefighters arrived in Stonyford the next day, plumes of smoke from the Sites and Mill fires met in a cloud above their heads.
“It was a dramatic way to enter this fire, to say the least,” Schweizer said.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, she said. There was no lightning before the fire started.
Firefighters from the city of Chico were behind a 40-foot firebreak monitoring a residence on Lodoga Stonyford Road east of the fire, in case the blaze got too close, said Capt. Ray Silverman. Silverman said his crew have been working 12-hour shifts near the home of Stonyford resident Dennis Workman to ensure that the fire didn”t threaten his property.
“Dennis has been a great host,” Silverman said.
Workman watched from his property as a backfire burned hundreds of yards past the firebreak above his house. Orange flames blossomed and licked the hillside beneath a plume of dark smoke hundreds of feet high.
Workman, a volunteer paramedic, wasn”t worried about the fire spreading to his residence.
“I”m feeling relief that I”ve got such great support,” Workman said.
Workman”s wife left the smoky area to visit Gualala on the North Coast.
“Somebody”s got to hold down the fort,” Workman said.
Caroline Stanton and her sister Joyce Bond have been checking on the fire from their residence on Lodoga Stonyford Road about every 15 minutes, Stanton said.
“Nobody wants to leave unless they absolutely have to,” Stanton said.
Family members from Folsom and Washington state have been calling and offering support periodically, Bond said. But helicopters dropping water on the blaze all day Wednesday gave the sisters a measure of comfort, she said.
“It was wonderful,” she said.
The people of Stonyford have been largely supportive of the firefighters that have come to fight the fire, Schweizer said. On Monday, when the inter-agency firefighters held the first town hall meeting in the Stonyford Grange, the building was full with about 100 people.
“I feel for them, because they”re concerned about the fire, obviously, as they should be,” Schweizer said.
Back at the command post, a strike team of firefighters from the Chico, Paradise and Biggs fire department leaned against a fire engine together and talked.
Capt. Mike Velazquez, who arrived in Stonyford Sunday, left his wife and 2-week-old daughter behind in Chico, he said. She also has to take care of an 11-month-old and a 3-year-old, Velazquez said.
“She”s probably more tired than me.”
Connect with staff intern Ben Mullin at 896-7761, email@example.com, or on Twitter @benmullin.