Saturday, 13 July 2024


MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST – More firefighters have been added to the effort to fully contain a fire complex that forest officials expect to be under control by next Wednesday.

The Soda Complex reached 79-percent containment on Friday, according to Forest Service spokesman Marc Peebles.

The fires, located in the vicinity of Lake Pillsbury on the Mendocino National Forest's Upper Lake Ranger District, have burned 8,360 acres, Peebles said.

Approximately 722 firefighters are assigned to the complex, about 70 more than the previous day.

Of the original four fires the only one still burning is the Mill Fire, which has burned 2,751 acres and is itself 64-percent contained. Peebles reported that total containment is estimated to take place July 23.

On Friday firefighters continued building containment line and dousing hot spots on all areas of the fire with the aid of aircraft and fresh crews. The fire, said Peebles, continues to burn actively on its western, southwestern and southeastern flanks.

He reported that one firefighter suffered a heat-related illness on Thursday and was temporarily removed from the fire line for recovery. The firefighter returned to duty Friday.

Elsewhere in the Mendocino National Forest, the Vinegar Fire has reached 30-percent containment after burning 10,070 acres, according to Forest Service spokesperson Phebe Brown. The Vinegar Fire is part of the complex burning in the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness, now managed under the Lime Complex.

In other areas of the North Coast, the Mendocino Lightning Complex was contained Thursday night, but residents in the northern part of Lake County reported Friday that thick smoke was still coming into the area.

Doug Gearhart, deputy air pollution control officer at the Air Quality Management District said that smoke is from the Mendocino County fires, with the winds carrying the fires to Lake County, where it's becoming trapped in some of the area's confined valleys.

Gearhart reported that Lake County's air quality is supposed to be in the good to moderate range through Monday, although residual smoke can be expected to remain throughout all areas of Northern California, including Lake County, until the wildfires are completely contained.

For more information about the forest fires visit Forest Service Web site at or For information about other fires around the state, visit

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NORTH COAST – The slow process of bringing the fires in the Mendocino National Forest under control is continuing, with firefighters concentrating on the remaining fire in the complex.

The Soda Complex, to the north of Lake Pillsbury on the Mendocino National Forest's Upper Lake Ranger District, is now 75-percent contained after having burned 8,337 acres, according to Forest Service spokesperson Marc Peebles. There are now 655 personnel assigned to the fire.

The 2,748-acre Mill Fire is the last of the complex's four original fires to still burn actively. Peebles reported that a five-acre spot fire occurred on that fire's northern portion on Wednesday, crossing containment lines. Firefighters on the ground were aided by aircraft and contained the spot fire.

Peebles said the fire continues to be active on the western, southwestern and southeastern flanks, especially in the late afternoon, as it backs down towards Thomas Creek to the southwest and to the southeast. Backfires and line construction continue to take place.

The Vinegar Fire in the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness has burned 9,430 acres on the Mendocino National Forest, according to Forest Service spokesperson Phebe Brown. There is no estimate for that fire's containment.

Lake County Air Pollution Control Officer Bob Reynolds said the county's air quality is expected to continue to improve, with measurements expected to be in the good to moderate range through Friday. Some smoke from wildland fires around Northern California has remained in the air basin in recent days, brought here by west to southwest winds.

For more information about the forest fires visit Forest Service Web site at or For information about other fires around the state, visit

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HIDDEN VALLEY LAKE – A Clearlake man is being charged with felony driving under the influence following a Tuesday crash.

Adam Jessen, 29, will face felony DUI and child endangerment once he's released from Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where he was admitted for treatment of injuries following the crash, which occurred at 2:56 p.m. Tuesday, said California Highway Patrol Officer Adam Garcia.

Garcia said Jessen was driving his 1986 Mercury north on Highway 29 north of Spruce Grove Road, just outside of Hidden Valley Lake, when his vehicle drifted onto the east shoulder.

Jessen attempted to correct the vehicle's path and crossed opposing traffic, going over the west side of the highway and rolling over a couple of times before coming to rest on its wheels approximately 80 feet down a steep embankment, according to Garcia.

An air ambulance transported Jessen to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital with severe but not life-threatening injuries, Garcia reported. A 4-year-old female passenger riding with Jessen sustained minor to moderate injuries and was taken to Redbud Community Hospital by South Lake County Fire Protection District ambulance.

Garcia said Jessen is believed to have been under the influence of alcohol at the time of the collision.

Officer Robert Hearn is investigating the incident, Garcia said.

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LOWER LAKE – Three people were injured in a crash near Lower Lake early Thursday morning.

The crash took place at 6:30 a.m. on Seigler Canyon Road, three miles west of Highway 29, California Highway Patrol Officer Adam Garcia reported.

Garcia said 40-year-old Michael Rhode of Clearlake was driving a 2003 Ford Taurus westbound on Seigler Canyon Road when he lost control of his vehicle, apparently due to a medical condition. He collided head-on with Barbara Dwyer, 36, of Cobb, driving a 2006 Honda Civic in the eastbound lane.

The crash sent Dwyer's car off the roadway, where it came to rest in a creek bed approximately 15 feet off the roadway, according to Garcia.

Dwyer sustained major injuries and was flown by REACH air ambulance to UC Davis Medical Center. Garcia said it wasn't yet known on Thursday if her injuries were life-threatening.

Her front passenger, 53-year-old Cobb resident Sharon Anderson, suffered moderate injuries and was taken by Kelseyville Fire ambulance to Sutter Lakeside Hospital, Garcia reported.

Garcia said Rhode also was taken to Sutter lakeside Hospital for moderate injuries by Kelseyville Fire ambulance.

Officer Dallas Richey is investigating the incident, Garcia said.

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NORTH COAST – A fire that destroyed buildings in the Mendocino County Office of Education's complex in Ukiah last week also destroyed records for an educational program that benefits the region's schools.

The fire broke out at 2:22 a.m. Saturday, July 12, at the agency's complex on Old River Road, said Ukiah Valley Fire Chief Dan Grebil.

Three Ukiah Valley engines were joined at the scene by an engine from El Cajon Fire Department and another engine from the fire department for the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians from the San Diego area, said Grebil.

The engines were in the county to work on the vast Mendocino Lightning Complex and were able to respond and assist with putting out the fire, which Grebil said took about an hour.

Investigation into the fire's cause is still ongoing, said Grebil.

Paul Tichinin, Mendocino County superintendent of schools, said the fire affected seven buildings, destroying five portables measuring about 900 square feet each.

Damage estimates are still in process, he said. “We do know it's in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

No classrooms were damaged or student records lost, Tichinin said. The district's main computer system also remains intact, with staffers set up in a temporary office facility, using laptops to recover data.

However, a number of programs providing support for special groups of children were impacted, Tichinin said.

They include the Child Development Department, Child Care Planning Council, Americorps and the First Five Commission. Some equipment for very young, disabled children also was destroyed, he said.

A far-reaching impact is the loss of materials and records for the regional after school tutoring program. Tichinin said the program serves Lake, Sonoma, Humboldt, Del Norte and Mendocinco counties, offering training and support for after school programs.

He said his staff was working hard to find what was missing and damaged and get back on track for when the county's schools return to session, which is from Aug. 18 onward.

He said he was especially thankful to firefighters, and grateful that the firefighters from Viejas and El Cajon happened to be in the area.

“We're just really pleased with them,” Tichinin said.

Out of harm's way was Dominican University of California's facilities, which are located at the campus for Mendocino Office of Education.

“We were on the total opposite side of the campus,” said Dr. Lisa Ray Kelly, director of the center, which offers teaching credential programs serving Lake, Mendocino and Sonoma counties.

Kelly said there will be no interruption of service for Dominican resulting from the fire.

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Rob Brown (left) looks on as a large amount of marijuana removed from illicit gardens he discovered on his property last week is dropped by a helicopter used to transport the plants from the grow area. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



KELSEYVILLE – On Wednesday, state and local officials eradicated thousands of illegal marijuana plants which Supervisor Rob Brown found on his property last week.

The Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, or CAMP – a multi-agency task force including members from the Lake County Sheriff's Office, Fish and Game, California Department of Justice and California Highway Patrol, among them – pulled out the illegal gardens in a Wednesday morning operation.

Approximately 4,887 marijuana plants, which were not yet bearing buds, were cut down and buried on the property near Bottle Rock Road in Kelseyville, said Ryan Pontecorvo of the California Department of Justice, who was participating in the plants' removal.

Brown said the plants initially were discovered last Tuesday and Wednesday, when a heavy equipment operator working to clear brush on the land was confronted by a Hispanic male who tried to make the operator leave the area.

Since then, flyovers revealed the grow area encompassed about 100 of Brown's 300 acres, running along draws and low areas between the area's hillsides.

Tree and brush canopy shaded the garden from view, but Brown said the bright green color of the young marijuana plants was clearly visible from the air.



A shot from a helicopter shows garbage tucked under the brush canopy at the top of the picture. This is taken after the marijuana plants were pulled out from around the trees. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


In one spot, Brown said a spring that drains into a dry creek bed that runs only in the winter time – and which feeds into Cole Creek – was dammed as a water source for the plants.

A sheriff's office SWAT team went into the gardens early Wednesday morning before the eradications began in an attempt to locate any grower suspects, Pontecorvo said. No individuals were found in the growers' camp, which was located in thick brush on Brown's property.

Although none of the growers were found Wednesday, Pontecorvo said law enforcement did find a burning candle at the camp, which the superstitious growers light as an offering to a protective saint but which also posed a fire danger. They also found shotgun shells, he added.

A helicopter trip over the area late Wednesday morning showed extensive amounts of drip line and garbage the growers had left behind.

Pontecorvo said the operation likely had been built up over a period of years. Finding such grows on private land, when the property owner isn't aware of it, is not uncommon, he said.

Brown's small herd of buffalo stood on a hillside overlooking the scene as Pontecorvo and about 20 other law enforcement task force members and support staff went about the work of destroying the plants.

Many of the men – wearing green or camouflage fatigues complete with radios, drinking water and weapons – were dropped into the gardens on a 100-foot long line via a helicopter in a technique called Short Term Airborne Operation, or STABO, which they began using in 1993.

Pontecorvo said using the helicopter allows them to cover more land area quicker. In the case of Brown's property, they were able to traverse the large amount of acreage in only about two and a half hours.

Berk Berkley, who has been with CAMP since he retired as the sheriff of Madera County in 1986, said the helicopter's $809 per hour services are provided for free to counties that participate in CAMP, which is funded primarily by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and run by the California Department of Justice.

As to who was responsible for the illicit marijuana grow, Pontecorvo said it's most likely Mexican men hired by Mexican organized crime. He said the men are brought over the border by “coyotes” – or people smugglers – and deposited in the grow area, where they're left for months at a time to tend the gardens.

Scouting for sites usually starts as early as March, said Pontecorvo, with young marijuana plant clones planted in the areas and assisted in their growing by heavy doses of fertilizers such as Miracle-Gro or Romeo, which can wreak havoc on the environment.



The marijuana did not yet have buds on it. Officials buried it at Brown's property. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


Berkley said growers like places like Lake County because it's very isolated. “That's what they look for.”

Brown and his wife, Kim, were still unnerved by the thought that they and their children had been close to the area where the growing activity was taking place. Trails around the sites are popular horseback riding areas for the Brown children and their friends.

The Browns also reported that a large beef cow of theirs had gone missing, with the last tracks of hers that they found leading up to some pine trees on the hillside, where the gardens also extended. The conclusion, at least for now, is that she may have become meat for the growers.

Pontecorvo said CAMP's Region 5 team – which covers Lake County – is spending a lot of time in the county these days.

Last week, CAMP activities in Lake County resulted in the eradication of approximately 53,472 marijuana plants with an estimated street value of $240 million, as Lake County News has reported.

Pontecorvo said the height of the eradication season is July 1 through mid-October.

One of the issues the Browns are still facing is cleanup. Pontecorvo said cleaning up an acre of land after an illegal garden is eradicated costs about $11,000 – from filling in cisterns dug to water the plants to dealing with miles of leftover irrigation drip line, besides damages to wild animals and natural vegetation, which can be harder to address.

Rob Brown said he'll start hauling out garbage and small portable propane tanks left behind by the growers, the latter a particular safety hazard in light of this year's volatile fire season.

Pontecorvo emphasized that anyone who comes across an illegal marijuana grow – whether on private or public lands – should leave the area immediately and notify law enforcement. He said growers often are armed and very dangerous, with recent cases being reported in other parts of the state where someone happening across a grow was killed.

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A task force member stands uphill of a camp they located deep in the brush. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



CLEARLAKE OAKS – A Clearlake Oaks woman sustained major injuries this week when she was involved in a motorcycle crash in Sonoma County.

Phyliss Finlayson, 69, was injured Tuesday while she and friends were riding motorcycles southbound along Highway 1 near Timber Cove, said Officer Barbara Upham, spokesperson for the Santa Rosa office of the California Highway Patrol.

Upham said Finlayson entered a curve in the road and lost control of the motorcycle.

The motorcycle went off the road and into some gravel, where Upham said it hit an embankment and a tree.

Upham said Finlayson was thrown off of the motorcycle and landed in a creek bed about 40 feet below the embankment.

When Finlayson was ejected from the motorcycle, it appeared that her face hit the handlebars, which caused major facial injuries, according to Upham.

Upham said Finlayson also suffered a broken neck, broken ribs and a broken wrist, and was airlifted to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital for treatment.

On Thursday Upham said she didn't have any update on Finlayson's condition.

“Currently, our suspicion is that she was driving too fast for the roadway conditions,” Upham said of the reason for the crash.

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A REACH helicopter takes off from the Caltrans yard on Highway 20 as a Northshore Fire firefighter looks on. The helicopter transported 11-year-old Joshua Compton to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


CLEARLAKE OAKS – An 11-year-old boy was injured Wednesday afternoon after the van he was riding in collided with a parked Mediacom truck.

The crash occurred by the Caltrans yard near Schindler Street on Highway 20 in Clearlake Oaks. It was reported at 5:20 p.m., according to the California Highway Patrol.

Jason Compton, 36, of Lucerne – accompanied by his 11-year-old son, Joshua – was driving a newer-model white Ford van for Half Price westbound on Highway 20 when he fell asleep, said CHP Officer Mark Barnes.

Alongside of the road's eastbound lane was parked a Ford F-450 Mediacom pickup, said Barnes. Mediacom employee Craig Billings, 47, of Clearlake, had just come down from working on a nearby utility pole and had walked around the rear passenger side of the vehicle when Compton's van struck the left rear of the pickup.

The truck moved away from Billings, who was hit in the elbow by the moving truck but suffered no other injuries, said Barnes.

The collision, however, trapped the little boy in the front passenger side of the van, said Barnes. The eastbound traffic lane was blocked as Northshore Fire Protection Department personnel extricated him.

In the nearby Caltrans yard, a REACH helicopter was staged. Northshore Fire paramedics moved the child – who suffered facial lacerations but appeared to have had no other serious injuries – via a gurney to the helicopter, which Barnes said transported him to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.

The boy's distraught father, joined by his wife at the scene, was limping following the crash, and also had suffered a deep gash to the back of his scalp.

An American Towing truck removed the van from the scene.

Barnes said there appeared to be no other factors involved in the crash, with Compton's speed not being an issue.

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The van hit hte Mediacom truck while it was sitting alongside Highway 20. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


LUCERNE – On Tuesday night Lake County Sheriff's deputies tasered a man suspected of driving under the influence and possessing a dangerous weapon who had attempted to flee from them following a brief foot and vehicle pursuit.

Curtis Frank Anderson, 36, of Nice was tasered in the backyard of a residence at the corner of Foothill Drive and Victoria Street at about 10 p.m.

Anderson, who was driving an older model pickup, had traveled down Foothill Drive at a high rate of speed and came to a stop in front of the home, fleeing into the backyard.

The house's occupants emerged and began screaming at two sheriff's deputies who emerged from a single sheriff's car, who pursued the man into the yard and told him to stop.

The deputies were approached by another subject who they told to get back. At one point a deputy ordered one of the men to put down a stick.

When their orders weren't followed, one of the deputies deployed a taser that hit Anderson, taking him to the ground.

While in the process of taking Anderson back to the vehicle, several subjects from the home continued to scream obscenities at the deputies. When another subject refused to back away from the patrol car, he, too, was taken into custody.

Two other patrol cars arrived at the scene and assisted with an investigation. A towing company impounded Anderson's pickup at the order of the sheriff's deputies.

Anderson was subsequently arrested and transported to have a blood draw before he was booked into the Lake County Jail on a felony charge of possessing/manufacturing/selling a dangerous weapon or explosive and a felony parole violation.

He also was charged with misdemeanors including driving under the influence, obstructing a peace officer and possession of a controlled substance without a prescription.

No information was available early Wednesday morning about the other subject arrested at the same time as Anderson.

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MENDOCINO COUNTY – After nearly a month of firefighting, smoky skies and more than 50,000 acres scorched, the Mendocino Lighting Complex was fully contained Thursday evening.

Theresa McNerlin, public information officer for the county of Mendocino, reported just after 8 p.m. that the 53,300-acre fire had reached 100-percent containment.

The complex of 129 fires was sparked by dry lightning storms beginning June 20, as Lake County News has reported. Suppression costs are now estimated at $44.1 million.

The fires had triggered evacuations in numerous parts of the county, and destroyed one home and one outbuilding.

During the weeks of firefighting, one Anderson Valley firefighter died from respiratory distress, and another 45 were injured, according to Cal Fire.

When containment was announced Thursday, 2,088 fire personnel were still assigned to the complex – including 340 “overhead” or leadership positions – along with 119 engines, 63 fire crews, 10 helicopters, 45 water tenders, 18 dozers and one fixed-wing aircraft, Cal Fire reported.

Officials reminded residents that despite containment, smoke and flareups could occur within the complex's containment lines. Several weeks of patrolling all the fire areas – from the air and the ground – will continue in an effort to extinguish hot spots.

For information about other fires around the state, visit

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NORTH COAST – The last of the fires in the Soda Complex has made a large advancement in acreage, crossing containment lines and requiring the assistance of aircraft.

A dry lightning storm on June 21 triggered the Soda Complex to the north and northwest of Lake Pillsbury on the Mendocino National Forest's Upper Lake Ranger District, as Lake County News has reported.

The complex has burned 8,317 acres, with one of its four original fires – the Mill Fire – still burning and at 52-percent containment, according to Forest Service spokesman Marc Peebles.

On Tuesday, the Mill Fire jumped the containment lines on its southeastern portion, and continued burning in a northeasterly direction, Peebles reported. On the western and southwestern flanks the fire continues to be active, backing down towards Thomas Creek.

The fire is now at 2,728 acres burned – about 800 more acres since the last report – with fire crews working to reconstruct containment lines while they're aided by aircraft fighting the fire from above, Peebles said. Firefighters are using backfires to control the Mill Fire's spread.

Peebles said 455 personnel, 12 fire crews, 16 engines, three dozers, four water tenders and six helicopters continue to work on the Mill Fire, which is expected to be fully contained July 23.

Elsewhere on public lands, fires in the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness continue to burn aggressively, having burned 23,649 acres, 9,190 of which is burning in the Vinegar Fire located on the Mendocino National Forest, said Forest Service spokesperson Phebe Brown. The Vinegar Fire is only 25-percent contained.

Lake County Air Pollution Control Officer Bob Reynolds reported Wednesday that the county's air quality continues to improve as the fires die down, and that air quality measurements show that air should be in the good to moderate range.

In other regional fire news Wednesday, Mendocino County's lightning complex remained at 95-percent containment and 53,300 acres burned, according to Cal Fire. Approximately 2,292 firefighters remain assigned to the last three fires in the complex, which has cost more than $41 million to suppress.

For more information about the forest fires visit Forest Service Web site at or For information about other fires around the state, visit

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A firefighter helps Mr. Ed get a drink. Courtesy photo.


MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST – On Tuesday firefighters came to the rescue of an injured horse found near the fire line of the Soda Complex, burning on the Mendocino National Forest near Lake Pillsbury.

At around 8 a.m. Tuesday, firefighters working on the western and southwestern edge of the Mill Fire came across an injured horse as crews were constructing containment line and preparing for a backfire operation, according to Forest Service spokesperson Marc Peebles.

Firefighters assessed the injured horse and found that he sustained injuries to his front legs and abrasions, said Peebles. The horse also appeared to be very dehydrated, weak and may have been in this condition for several days.

Peebles said they suspect that the horse may have been spooked and ran off during the initial lightening storm several weeks ago.



The firefighters gave the injured horse tender loving care on the fire line, complete with apples and affection. Courtesy photo.


Incident Commander Dave Fiorella of Southern California Incident Management No. 3 ordered his Management Team to find a local veterinarian and for firefighters to prepare for a rescue mission, Peebles said. Dr Sherry Cronin D.V.M. of Covelo was flown by helicopter into the area to assess the horse’s condition prior to rescue.

The horse got some special tender loving care from his firefighter friends, who fed the horse apples from their fire line sack lunches and gave him water to help him recover, according to Peebles.

After a couple of hours, the horse began to show signs of improvement, Peebles said, and Dr. Cronin determined the horse’s injuries were minor enough that firefighters could walk him to a ranch a few miles away.

Peebles said the firefighters on the line affectionately dubbed the horse “Mr. Ed.”

Officials offered a special thanks to the Mendocino County Animal Shelter for helping to locate Dr Cronin and a temporary shelter location.



Once Mr. Ed was given the all clear by veterinarian Dr. Sherry Cronin, firefighters were able to lead him to a nearby ranch. Courtesy photo.



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