Repeat wildfire evacuations leave some Californians weary
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UPPER LAKE, Calif. — Jessyca Lytle fled a fast-moving Northern California wildfire in 2015 that spared her property but destroyed her mother’s memorabilia-filled home in rural and rugged Lake County.
Less than three years later, Lytle found herself listening to scanner traffic and fire-proofing her mother’s new home Tuesday as another wildfire advanced and turned the sun into a tiny orange dot suspended in the smoke.
“Honestly, what I’m thinking right now is I just want this to end,” Lytle said, adding that she was “exhausted in every way possible — physically, emotionally, all of that.
“But you can’t stop doing what you have to do, and you can’t stop facing what you have to face,” she said.
Firefighters pressed their battle against a pair of fires that have burned 117 square miles across Mendocino and Lake counties. In all, roughly 19,000 people have been warned to flee and 10,000 homes remain under threat.
Derek Hawthorne, a firefighter and spokesman for the fire crews, said the hot weather was not ideal but the wind where he was in the city of Upper Lake was on their side.
“It’s blowing into the fire, and it’s kind of blowing it back on itself,” he said.
Elsewhere, the Carr Fire had burned more than 880 homes and killed six people in and around Redding. Another 348 outbuildings were also destroyed, and the blaze is now the seventh most destructive wildfire in California history, fire officials said.
National Park officials said Tuesday the scenic Yosemite Valley and other areas will be closed “at least through Sunday” due to heavy smoke from the so-called Ferguson Fire. The closure began July 25 and had been tentatively scheduled to end Friday.
Park spokesman Scott Gediman said “continuing poor air quality” and ongoing firefighting operations warranted the extension.
It was the longest closure at Yosemite since 1997 when floods closed the park for over two months.
In Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, an arson fire that destroyed seven homes last week was 82 percent contained Monday.
People in Lake County, an impoverished community of 65,000 about 110 miles north of San Francisco, know about evacuations.
The 2015 Valley Fire, which came on the heels of two other fires, killed four and destroyed 1,300 homes when it blew up unexpectedly during a September heat wave. It wiped out entire neighborhoods prized for their privacy and sense of community and turned scenic areas into charred forest.
Since then, parts of the county have been evacuated regularly due to fire, most recently in June.
Evacuation orders remained in effect Tuesday for the town of Lakeport, the county seat, along with some smaller communities and a section of the Mendocino National Forest.
Lakeport is a popular destination for bass anglers and boaters on the shores of Clear Lake. By Monday night, it was a ghost town, its main streets deserted.
Paul Lew and his two boys, ages 13 and 16, evacuated Saturday from their Lakeport home.
“I told them to throw everything they care about in the back of the car,” said Lew, 45. “I grabbed computers, cellphones, papers. I just started bagging all my paperwork up, clothes, my guitars.”
Lew, who is divorced from Lytle, is camped out at the house in the nearby community of Cobb that she fled in 2015. He is watching over her chickens, sheep and other animals. He laughs that repeated fire alerts have made him an emergency preparation expert.
“It’s like three a year,” he said. “It’s kind of crazy.”
Lytle said a sudden change in wind saved her property from being demolished in 2015. But her mother’s house was not so lucky.
Her mother, Kathy DeMartini, used the insurance money to buy a home near Lakeport with a beautiful dock and view where she hopes to make new memories, Lytle said.
Like her former husband, Lytle has to laugh at the situation as she checks in with relatives and friends who also have homes in the county. She put patio furniture in the garage and made sure the gutters were wetted down. She is ready to go.
“Here we are again, giving each other status updates, just trying to keep in good humor,” she said.
She considered moving south to Santa Rosa in Sonoma County and even started to apply to schools for her sons. But then wildfires swept through that area last year, killing 44 people throughout Northern California wine country.
Associated Press writer Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco also contributed to this report.