Monday, 15 July 2024


5:50 p.m. update

LAKE COUNTY – Firefighters continue to try to contain the Walker Fire near the Double Eagle Ranch, as well as fires caused by lightning in the Mendocino National Forest.

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The Walker Fire continues to burn in remote wildlands east of Clearlake Oaks, Cal Fire reported Tuesday afternoon.

The estimated size of the fire – which a Cal Fire official told Lake County News Monday was 10,000 acres Monday night – was rolled back to about 9,000 acres. It is 5-percent contained.

The incident command was moved from the Oasis road house to Konocti Conservation Camp, where a total of 134 personnel – including 62 from Cal Fire – were staging, Cal Fire reported.

On scene are a total of 17 engines, a helicopter and 10 bulldozers, including local and state resources, according to Cal Fire.

Cal Fire reported that voluntary evacuations remained in place on Double Eagle Ranch, Bear Valley ranch land and Wilbur Hot Springs.

The California Highway Patrol's Ukiah Dispatch Center said Tuesday afternoon that Highway 20 remained open. Fire officials have warned that a shift in the winds could carry the fire toward the highway and necessitate a closure.

In the Mendocino National Forest, a report from spokesperson Phebe Brown there have been a total of 57 fires burning 2,800 acres in Lake, Mendocino and Tehama counties. Twenty-one of the fires are contained.

Brown reported that 389 firefighters – including nine fire crews – are on scene. Smoke jumpers also have been ordered.

“We have three large fires that we’re trying to gain the upper hand on,” said Brown.

They include the Back (southwest of Lake Pillsbury, 1,800 acres, 40-percent contained); Big (west of Lake Pillsbury, 850 acres, 0-percent contained); Monkey Rock (in the Yuki Wilderness, 50 acres, has a low rate of spread).

On Tuesday the county Department of Public Works reported that Elk Mountain Road, between Bear Creek Road and Soda Creek, had been closed to all traffic except emergency personnel.

Still closed is Walker Ridge Road, and Bartlett Springs Road is open on an “enter at your own risk” condition, according to Public Works.

Cal Fire said there are currently 842 fires burning around California, many of which are believed to have been caused by lightning strikes last weekend.

For information on the fire the public may call Cal Fire at 707-967-1456.

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The new Animal Care and Control shelter on Helbush Drive. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


LAKEPORT – Lake County Animal Care and Control will hold a grand opening celebration this week for its new shelter.

The event will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, June 26, at the new shelter, located at 4949 Helbush Drive, across from the Lake County Jail.

The new, 7,800-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility was opened to the public April 28, as Lake County News has reported. Construction on the $2 million project began in April of 2007.

When staff moved to the new facility in April, they left behind the cramped, 1940s-era facility located behind the Lake County Agriculture Department on Lakeport Boulevard.

The shelter, in its current phase, has roughly the same number of kennels as the old – 34 kennels for dogs, 38 kennels for cats and 24 kennels for feral cats, plus 16 dog isolation kennels.

Another planned construction phase will double that capacity and add a clinic for treating animals on site. A barn and livestock pens also will be added, officials reported.

Animal Care and Control invites the community to attend the grand opening and visit the new facility this Thursday. Refreshments will be served.

For more information call Animal Care and Control, 263-0278.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


NORTH COAST – Thousands of acres around the state continued to burn Sunday in hundreds of lightning-caused fires, with state and federal officials doing their best to contain them.

Heavy smoke continued to clog Lake County's skies, with the smoke coming from fires in Mendocino County's Covelo and Anderson Valley regions, according to Cal Fire spokesperson Tracy Boudreaux.

Cal Fire reported that nearly 400 fires were burning in its units around the state, from Northern California south to Fresno and Monterey counties.

In Mendocino County, Cal Fire reported 90 fires had been reported and have burned more than 5,000 acres. The Orr Fire is 200 acres and has evacuations of the Orr Springs Resort and 20 homes in the area; the Navarro Fire is 1,400 acres and 5-percent contained; the Foster Fire is 60 acres with 0-percent containment; the Table Mountain Fire is 1,000 acres and 5-percent contained; the Mallo Pass Fire is 600 acres; and the two Juan Creek fires are at 100 acres each. Cal Fire said there are eight additional fires at 30 acres each.

In the Sonoma-Lake-Napa Cal Fire Unit, five fires had been reported burning near Napa, west of Fairfield. All but one of the fires was contained. The fire had burned 3,500 acres Sunday, and was 35-percent contained.

In the Mendocino National Forest, lightning over the weekend caused at estimated 50 fires across the forest's three ranger districts, according to Forest Service spokesperson Phebe Brown.

The largest of the fires is a 50-acre blaze on the Upper Lake Ranger District, said Brown.

Some structures in the area are threatened, she said, although there are no evacuations ordered yet. Fire equipment is on the roads and people are advised to be careful if traveling in the forest.

Most of the fires are small, and some already have been contained, Brown said.

Smoke jumpers are working on some of the larger fires, said Brown.

Containment across all of the fires is estimated at 10 percent, she said.

“We have requested more equipment and crews,” said Brown.

Although the forest has been getting much of what it's requested, Brown added, “The crews are pretty scarce.”

The push around the state was for more personnel, with officials reporting a shortage of available firefighters. Over the weekend, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger deployed the California National Guard to assist with firefighting, according to the Associated Press.

Lake County Air Pollution Control Officer Bob Reynolds reported Sunday that the fires were resulting in smoke, haze and degraded air quality for the area.

Reynolds explained that smoke is trapped in the cooler marine air layer and transported inland, causing the present smoke impacts. At times smoke can be transported to sea within a circulation cell, and then return back over Northern California in a wide band of smoke filled air.

He said the smoke and sunlight cause chemical reactions in the air that further reduces visibility by forming secondary particles aside from the smoke. These particles draw the moisture out of the air, growing in number and size, making the haze even worse.

Many areas, he said, are being affected more severely than Lake County.

He said that, although health standards have not been exceeded, levels are abnormally high, and it is suggested that persons sensitive to respiratory irritants or who have a respiratory illness stay indoors and avoid unnecessary exercise. Place air conditions on “recirculation” mode and consult your physician if you suffer from asthma or pulmonary disease, or have other health problems, and are experiencing difficulties.

Reynolds said the residual haze and particulate from the fires can be expected to continue throughout the northern part of the state until the fires are out.

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A Sikorsky Skycrane helicopter drops 750 gallons of water on a portion of the Walker Fire at about 6 p.m. Monday evening. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

WALKER RIDGE – A wildland fire burning in a remote part of the county nearly tripled in size Monday, with winds causing the blaze to jump fire lines as it continued on its path toward dozens of homes.

The Walker Fire had burned 10,000 acres with zero containment by 7 p.m. Monday, according to Frank Kemper, a Cal Fire spokesman at the incident command center at the Oasis road house along Highway 20.

The fire was continuing to burn over the ridge toward the Double Eagle Ranch subdivision, which is located about 14 miles east of Clearlake Oaks.

Northshore Fire Chief Jim Robbins said the fire was heading for the Lake/Colusa County line and the Bear Valley area, where area ranches might need to be evacuated.

Sixty-two personnel and 13 engines from all county fire districts and Cal Fire were on scene Monday, fighting what has become one of the largest uncontained wildland fire burning in the state, according to Cal Fire statistics.

Thirty-five structures were reported threatened, with one older hunting cabin in Benmore Canyon destroyed, said Robbins.

There also is the very real possibility that, if winds shift and the fire change directions, it could head toward Spring Valley, necessitating evacuations, Robbins said.



The fire burns in an area about one ridge away from the main part of the Double Eagle Ranch subdivision Monday evening. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



Jeffrey Tunnell, a fire mitigation and education specialist with the Bureau of Land Management, said the fire was burning a mix of private property and BLM-managed wildlands.

A BLM ranger spotted the fire in the remote Benmore Canyon area on Sunday, said Tunnell.

No injuries have been reported, said Robbins. “That's our main objective – to keep everyone as safe as possible.”

Robbins said Cal Fire took over as the lead agency on the fire Sunday.

Needing more help

Local fire officials were hoping that Cal Fire would be able to bring in more resources to help in the effort. “All the local staff are really, really stretched thin,” said Robbins.

Because of the fire's size, Kemper said it has moved up the priority list. Although they're getting resources from many different parts of the state, Kemper said Cal Fire is in an unusual situation, having to find resources while hundreds of wildfires burn around California.

“We're looking at conditions we might expect to find in August and September, and here it is June,” said Kemper.

Lack of resources, winds and dry brush appeared to contribute to the fire's significant growth.

At the start of the day Monday, the fire had been reported by Cal Fire to have scorched about 3,500 acres.

Fire officials had feared that the fire could be pushed toward Spring Valley overnight if valley winds kicked up.

However, Robbins said the fire actually seemed to die down overnight, as firefighters continued their efforts to suppress it.

The weary crews finally got to rest on Monday, said Robbins. “We got them to bed down early this morning because we knew it was going to be a long day.”

More bulldozers arrived around 2 a.m. from Vacaville, said Robbins, and worked to build fire lines in the Wilbur Springs area to cut the fire off should it reach there.



A tired Northshore firefighter takes a break Monday evening. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


Fire kicks into high gear

The fire stayed fairly calm until about noon, said Kemper.

Then the winds returned, with Robbins reporting gusts of up to 18 miles per hour from the northwest.

“Once the winds came up it just took off,” said Kemper.

Efforts to cut firebreaks with bulldozers to contain the fire were frustrated as the fire simply went over them.



A bulldozer works on a fire break Monday evening. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


“It jumped a bunch of lines all day,” said Keith Leffler, a firefighter specialist with Northshore Fire who also works as a Cal Fire bulldozer operator.

Leffler did dozer work around some of the houses to get rid of brush and debris that might burn. Other firefighters stationed at homes in the subdivision also did prep and cleanup work to help protect the residences.

In response to the fire's flare up, fire officials brought in aircraft, including a DC-10 air tanker which made several fire retardant drops, said Robbins.

A mix of Cal Fire and hired aircraft – including Chinook and Sikorsky helicopters – pounded the fire with water and retardant throughout the afternoon and into the evening in the Red Rocks region east of Benmore Canyon and west of the Double Eagle.

“We're just hoping it's going to hold it,” said Robbins.

About 5:30 p.m., as the winds picked up, dark black smoke began curling up over the ridges, with the fire experiencing another flare up. The aircraft continued drops on the fire, which seemed to knock back its strength.

However, smoke created a serious visibility problem for aircraft, which included tactical units and spotters, several of them flying over the fire at once. Shortly before 7 p.m., Cal Fire began to call in the aircraft due to the low visibility, which created a dangerous situation for pilots.

Fighting fire with fire

Along Meriann Drive in the Double Eagle Ranch, a horse pasture had been bulldozed to create a safety zone where firefighters can retreat if the fire gets worse, said Robbins.

He met with Northshore Battalion Chief Pat Brown and an engine of weary firefighters just down the road from the safety zone Monday evening, where they discussed strategy moving forward.

Brown said he intended to stay on scene overnight to do a burning operation, in which he planned to set a fire and send it in a northerly direction in an attempt to try to stop the bigger fire.

He said he needed the Walker Fire to calm down overnight, and have a southerly breeze, in order to carry out the plan.

“We will save the houses,” said Brown.

Cal Fire also reported it planned to do a burn from the remote Four Corners area – where four roads, including Walker Ridge and Bartlett Springs road, meet – and have it burn toward Bear Valley Road in one direction and Bartlett Springs in the other, which should run parallel to Walker Ridge, said Robbins.

Emergency resources at hand

Many local emergency resources were on hand to assist firefighters and area residents.

Lake County Sheriff's Sgt. Gary Basor was at the command center in his capacity as the county's Office of Emergency Services coordinator.



From left, Sgt. Gary Basor, a telecommunications technician and Northshore Fire Chief Jim Robbins stand outside the mobile operations unit Monday evening. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


On Sunday night Robbins put in a call for the mobile operations unit, a large trailer purchased with Homeland Security funds, featuring radios, laptops, a meeting room and other amenities for command leadership. Basor said this is the trailer's maiden voyage on a serious incident.

A Red Cross emergency shelter was set up at the Clearlake Oaks Fire Station under the direction of Pam Plank, the county's Red Cross disaster coordinator.

More than two dozen Double Eagle Ranch residents – plus some livestock and pets – were evacuated Sunday, as Lake County News has reported.

Campers at Indian Valley Reservoir also had been urged to leave, said Robbins.

As of Monday evening, the shelter had not been needed for any of the Double Eagle evacuees, so Plank and her cadre of volunteers – who had stayed at the shelter throughout the night to watch for anyone who needed help – were planning on closing the shelter.

Lake County Animal Care and Control has also been working to make sure animals were rescued from area homes.

On Monday they found a dog and a bird at a home in the Double Eagle and took them to safety, said staffer Sara Schramm.

Schramm said that no more livestock has been evacuated since Sunday, when four horses and about a dozen goats were removed to safety.

She and other Animal Care and Control staff got back to the shelter in Lakeport close to 11:30 p.m. Sunday after being on call most of the evening, she said.

There were concerns, however, that Double Eagle residents were trying to return to their homes as the fire's approach continued.

Robbins said they couldn't take the chance right now of letting residents back in.

Barricades and a California Highway Patrol cruiser were stationed at the entrance late Monday in an effort to discourage reentry into the subdivision.

Basor said it was for the residents' own safety that they had been asked to leave. If the winds were to shift the fire could move through the subdivision quickly, he said.

The county Department of Public Works reported Monday afternoon that it had closed Walker Ridge Road to all traffic with the exception of emergency personnel due to the fire.

Bartlett Springs Road is “enter at your own risk,” with no passage through to Indian Valley Reservoir, Public Works reported. Robbins said it's best of the public stays away from those areas for now.

In addition, he said there were still concerns that the fire could still burn down to Highway 20, forcing a closure.

The incident command post is expected to be moved to the Konocti Conservation Camp along Highway 29 on Tuesday afternoon, said Kemper.

That location will provide a larger facility for staging more firefighters – as many as a few thousand – and equipment should the fire grow larger, said Robbins.

Officials have stated that they believe the fire was caused by a lightning strike. Robbins said his units found the origin of the fire in Benmore Canyon on Sunday. Cal Fire investigators were reportedly investigating the scene Monday in order to make an official determination.

Area residents who have fire-related stories and experiences they wish to share are welcome to e-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



Spring Valley resident Vincent Stornaiuolo captured the bright orange sunset, caused by the fire's haze, from Spring Valley Monday evening. That area still could face evacuations if the fire shifts directions, officials reported.



WALKER RIDGE – Firefighters were battling the Walker Fire by both land and air Monday in an effort to keep the fast-moving fire from spreading.

Cal Fire reported that the fire had burned more than 3,500 acres since it was discovered Sunday afternoon in the Walker Ridge area near the Double Eagle Ranch subdivision, east of Clearlake Oaks. There is zero containment reported so far.

Due to limited firefighting resources, Cal Fire has stated that the fire could grow to 10,000 acres in size.

A DC-10 tanker was brought in on Monday morning to make a retardant drop on the fire, Cal Fire reported.

It was due to make another drop after 2:30 p.m. Monday, with officials on scene reporting that the fire was making “a significant run,” with winds reportedly blowing from the south southeast.


A total of 35 homes were said to be in danger Monday afternoon, Cal Fire reported, up from 10 that were listed Sunday. More evacuations could be possible.

Cal Fire reported that a total of 62 personnel were on scene Monday, along with 13 engines, three bulldozers and three water tenders.

The Walker Fire was burning down toward Highway 20, according to Cal Fire. One area where the fire was getting close to the highway was near the Oasis, a road house located between Clearlake Oaks and Williams.

However, the California Highway Patrol reported that Highway 20 was remaining open, and that they did not anticipate having to close it any time soon.

The county Department of Public Works reported it was shutting down Walker Ridge Road to all traffic with the exception of emergency personnel due to the fire.

Bartlett Springs Road is “enter at your own risk,” with no passage through to Indian Valley Reservoir, Public Works reported. The public is urged to stay away from the area in order to allow fire equipment to get to the fire line.

CHP said Bear Valley Road was being shut down from the Colusa County side.

Lake County News will continue to follow the story as it develops.

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NORTH COAST – Lightning was the cause of a series of fires around Northern California and the North Coast that were first reported Friday, and which on Saturday had blanketed Lake County with a thick layer of smoke and, in some areas, falling ash.

Cal Fire reported Saturday that 339 fires were burning across 12 of its units in Northern California and south to Fresno and Monterey counties, aided by this year's extremely dry conditions and, in some cases, by winds.

In Mendocino County alone, Cal Fire received more than 100 fire reports beginning at about 6 p.m. Friday and stretching through Saturday night, said Tracy Boudreaux, a fire prevention specialist with Cal Fire's Mendocino Unit.

“We're still getting reports of fires,” Boudreaux told Lake County News Saturday night, all of them resulting from lightning strikes around Mendocino County.

Total acreage estimates weren't available, although Cal Fire reported that the fires ranged in size from one to 125 acres.

Crews and equipment “from all over” – including local government, Office of Emergency Services, out-of-county Cal Fire units, some of them from as far away as Southern California – were battling the fires, said Boudreaux.

Strike teams from Cal Fire's Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit also were on scene, she said.

Many of the lightning-sparked fires were in remote areas of the county, such as the Orr Springs area. Boudreaux said there also was an ongoing fire at Navarro, and an evacuation advisory in the Flynn Creek area, where some individual structures were threatened, not a local subdivision.

Another fire was burning in Anderson Valley near Boonville, she said.

“We're basically tapped for resources right now,” said Boudreaux.

The Associated Press reported Saturday that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had ordered the California National Guard to assist with the firefighting effort.

Red skies loomed over the Anderson Valley and Ukiah areas Saturday, said Boudreaux. “It is overwhelming.”

Heavy smoke was visible around Lake County all day, with residents reporting that it was so thick in some areas they could no longer see Mt. Konocti.

In parts of Lakeport Saturday afternoon and evening, ash was reported falling.

Boudreaux said the smoke coming through Lake County was coming from two sources: lightning fires in Covelo and Anderson Valley.

Anderson Valley is inundated with smoke, Boudreaux said, and a marine layer of air is pushing the smoke into Lake and Sonoma counties.

In nearby Napa County, Boudreaux said lightning also sparked a fire that had reportedly burned 750 acres by Saturday night.

Boudreaux said the challenge for Cal Fire was prioritizing all of the fires in order to best use its stretched resources.

“Right now I think we're looking at several days of firefighting before we can actually get containment on most of them,” she said.

Boudreaux said Cal Fire is urging everyone to be prepared in case of fire during this busy fire season. Readiness includes having documents and personal possessions in an easy accessible location, and having plans for where to take one's family, pets and livestock.

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CLEARLAKE – Officials are investigating the death of a man who was injured last week in an automobile crash.

William Michael Viley of Clearlake died last Friday following a crash the previous day, on what was his 58th birthday, according to the Sonoma County Coroner's Office.

Viley was injured in a Thursday crash on Highway 53 at the Olympic Drive turnoff, according to Clearlake Police Chief Allan McClain.

Police officials told Lake County News last week that the crash – which involved a Hey, Taxi minivan that turned into the path of an oncoming vehicle while turning onto Olympic Drive – had resulted in only minor injuries.

McClain explained Monday that the report was based on information police had received from Redbud Community Hospital, where Viley and others involved in the collision were taken for treatment.

Viley had been one of five people in the van, said McClain. He and two other people were being transported to the DaVita Dialysis Center on Olympic Drive.

Unbeknownst to police, Viley was airlifted later on Thursday to Santa Rosa for treatment of head injuries, McClain said.

While undergoing brain surgery just after midnight on Friday morning, Viley died, said McClain.

Clearlake Police received a call later on Friday from a Sonoma County Sheriff's detective informing them of Viley's death, he added.

McClain said the Sonoma County Coroner's Office is investigating Viley's death to pinpoint the cause.

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The Walker Fire cast an eerie glow at the Double Eagle Ranch Sunday evening. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


DOUBLE EAGLE RANCH – Firefighters from around Lake County and from Cal Fire's Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit were engaged in a battle against a lightning-caused fire in the Walker Ridge area that was estimated to have burned more than 4,000 acres late Sunday.

With firefighting equipment and personnel stretched thin due to the hundreds of other lightning fires around California, Cal Fire estimated Sunday night that the Walker Fire could balloon to 10,000 acres because of limited resources.

While the fire was reported to be moving toward Bear Ridge, the big concern was that winds from the Sacramento Valley might push the fire in the other direction, toward the Spring Valley area, which could trigger evacuations.

Northshore Fire Battalion Chief Pat Brown said the fire was reported Sunday afternoon when smoke was spotted in the remote wildland area over the ridge from the Double Eagle Ranch subdivision, located about 14 miles east of Clearlake Oaks.

But the thick, smoky haze hanging over the county from fires in Mendocino County made it difficult to pin down the fire's location, said Brown, with firefighters spending half an hour looking for it.

By the time they found it, the fast-moving fire already had reached about 500 acres, Brown said.

The fire was burning through thick brush, and could be seen lining the ridges behind the subdivision, where in one area a column of flame suddenly expanded and leaped into the night air.

Brown said that personnel and 10 pieces of in-county fire equipment from all county fire protection districts – Lake County, South County, Lakeport, Kelseyville and Northshore – were on the Walker Ridge fire Sunday. Colusa County sent a strike team from its Sacramento River Fire District.

Cal Fire reported that total resources in place included 13 engines, 11 crews, one helicopter, six air tankers plus a DC-10, one bulldozer, three water tenders and 54 personnel.

The planes and helicopter were called back close to dark, said Brown. They were expected to return Monday.

“I can't get any more equipment,” said Brown, adding there weren't enough firefighting resources available because of the statewide fire picture.

Brown said that, along with the water tenders, three subdivision residents had large water tanks containing several thousand gallons of water, and another had a swimming pool, which could be used as water sources of necessary.

The big concern is wind, said Brown.

Although the wind had died down Sunday evening, Brown said much depends on conditions overnight and into Monday morning. If valley winds come in, they could push the fire toward Spring Valley.

Cal Fire reported wind gust of up to 14 miles per hour in the area Sunday.

Concerns that the fire could reach the Double Eagle Ranch led officials to evacuate all of the homeowners currently in residence Sunday evening.

Three Lake County Sheriff's deputies and a sergeant were on scene to evacuate between 25 and 30 residents, said Sgt. Kip Ringen.

One older man, who was leaving the Double Eagle on foot with his dog late Sunday, said he was ordered to leave and firefighters were stationed near his home.

“I hope I can go back soon,” he said.

The Clearlake Oaks Fire Station was opened as a Red Cross emergency shelter to area residents, officials reported.

With residents out of the subdivision, fire equipment was stationed around some area homes in case the fire comes over the ridge. Cal Fire reported 10 residences in the area were threatened.

Ringen said he also found several goats at a home in the Double Eagle Ranch while looking for residents to evacuate. The goats' owner wasn't home, so Ringen called for Animal Care and Control, who removed the animals.

Officials reported as many as 10 female goats and an uncooperative billy goat were taken to safety.

Animal Care and Control staffer Sara Schramm and Officer Eric Wood were at the Clearlake Oaks Fire Station with a pickup truck and trailer in case they were needed to help evacuate other livestock.

Schramm said four horses had been brought out by their owners, with another officer helping find boarding situations for the animals.

Late Sunday, California Highway Patrol officers were stationed at the entrance to Double Eagle along with sheriff's deputies in order to control traffic if necessary.

Although the fire was several ridges away from Highway 20, officials were prepared for the possibility that they might have to shut down the highway.

“That's probably one of our biggest concerns,” said Brown.

The roadway was still open late Sunday, although Brown again cautioned that conditions overnight and on Monday could change that.

CHP reported that Caltrans sign trucks were being requested as a precaution to set up at Highways 20 and 16, and at the intersection of Highway 53 and 20 in case a road closure became necessary.

Farther east on Highway 20, officials reported that the fire was expected to reach the highway near the Oasis – an old road house – around midnight.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



Plumes of smoke from the fire could be seen from the entrance to Spring Valley, where officials are concerned the fire might go if winds shift. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


LAKE COUNTY – A Saturday evening crash resulted in major injuries for a driver along Highway 20.

The California Highway Patrol reported that a solo vehicle collision occurred along Highway 20 near mile marker 33. The initial call was dispatched at 9:16 p.m.

The vehicle's male driver had been ejected and was lying in the roadway bleeding, according to the CHP.

CHP reported the vehicle itself was on fire, and the highway's eastbound was shut down completely.

Emergency personnel transported the man to Santa Rosa Memorial, where a CHP unit also was dispatched for a test to check if the man had been driving under the influence.

A flatbed tow truck was called to the scene to remove the vehicle, with the eastbound lane reopened at 9:42 p.m.

No other information, including the man's identity, was available from the CHP Friday night.

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Sgt. James Rayburn cuts a cake during a visit with Operation Tango Mike on Friday, June 20, 2008. Photo courtesy of Ginny Craven.


LAKEPORT – Sgt. James Rayburn is home on leave after serving nine months there in Iraq.

The US Army veteran has only 18 short days at home before he returns to Iraq to serve another six months and complete his tour of duty. When he is not deployed, James and his wife and children live in Kentucky where his duty station is Fort Campbell.

Rayburn is originally from Middletown and still thinks of Lake County as home.

Several months ago his name and address were given to Operation Tango Mike, along with a request to send care packages to bolster the soldier’s morale. The request came from a teenager in Middletown, who attends the same church as the Rayburn family members that remain in Lake County. That young man, Tyler O’Brien, has supported Operation Tango Mike through participation via the Interact Club at Middletown High School.

Rayburn asked his local family members early last week to contact someone from Operation Tango Mike to make arrangements to meet. The soldier wanted to thank his supporters and share his thoughts and true stories of how care packages and contact from home have helped him throughout his deployment.

The sergeant and his family arrived at Umpqua Bank in Lakeport on Friday morning to a warm welcome and a cake decorated in the style of an American flag. The soldier was presented with gifts and greeting cards and was showered with thanks, hugs and handshakes.

He spoke of how difficult time away from home can be in a war zone. He then added that every card, letter and care package make it bearable.

Rayburn said the first time he received a care package from Operation Tango Mike was a truly exciting experience. Although every mail call is uplifting when your name is called, that first package was very moving. The soldier said he examined the package, saw a Lake County return address, and thought, “This is from home!”

He expressed his gratitude for the care packages and support he has received. Moreover, he repeatedly spoke of “what a great thing it is Lake County is doing” in sending care packages. The soldier said he knows with certainty there are many others deployed far from home that benefit from the support.

Operation Tango Mike will continue to send care packages and support to Sgt. Rayburn throughout his deployment.

Approximately 80 to 100 care packages are prepared and shipped monthly. Donations of goods for the care packages and financial contributions for shipping costs are always needed. Checks can be mailed to 5216 Piner Court, Kelseyville, CA 95451.

The next packing party will be June 26 at 6 p.m. at Umpqua Bank on 11th Street in Lakeport.

Volunteers are welcome and should contact Ginny Craven at (707) 349-2838 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



The flag cake was shared at a gathering at Umpqua Bank on Friday, June 20, 2008. Photo courtesy of Ginny Craven.


From left, Red Cross volunteers Carol Bettencourt and Robin Webster, and Disaster Coordinator Pam Plank, staffed the evacuation shelter through the night. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


CLEARLAKE OAKS – With the Walker Fire burning thousands of acres in the Walker Ridge area, the Red Cross on Sunday evening set up a shelter for evacuees.

The shelter could become critical if winds shift and the fire moves west toward Spring Valley.

Kelseyville resident Pam Plank, the Red Cross' Lake County disaster coordinator, got the call at about 5:30 p.m. Sunday that a shelter was needed.

Lake County Sheriff's officials evacuated between 25 and 30 Double Eagle Ranch subdivision residents Sunday evening due to concerns that the fire might reach homes there.

Cal Fire reported that the blaze was estimated to have burned more than 4,000 acres by Sunday night.

By about 10:30 p.m. Sunday the shelter had had inquiries but not yet taken anyone in for the night, according to Plank.

Plank said she had seen many cars loaded up with peoples' belongings headed toward the Clearlake and Middletown areas, so she believed that most were staying with friends and family.

“We'll stay open,” she said.

The shelter could end up being filled if the fire changes directions.

Northshore Fire Battalion Chief Pat Brown said Sunday he was concerned that conditions might change overnight, with the possibility that winds from the Sacramento Valley could push the Walker Fire toward Spring Valley.

Plank said the Red Cross was prepared for the possibility that a Spring Valley evacuation could take place.

This is the first time Red Cross has used Clearlake Oaks' Station 75 for an emergency shelter, said Plank.

She had 100 cots, blankets and “comfort kits” – small individual bags of toiletries – at the shelter, with another 150 cots in storage in Lakeport.

Plank said that the cots, if they're needed, will be set up in the station's large engine bay, which had been emptied for the purpose.

In addition to the fire station, they've secured the Eastlake Grange just down the road in case more room becomes necessary.

Plank was joined at the station Sunday by several volunteers, including her son, Jeff, Robin Webster of Clearlake Oaks and Carol Bettencourt of Lucerne.

The volunteers were staying overnight at the shelter to keep it open for anyone who might need it, Plank said.

Plank is an experienced disaster coordinator with Red Cross, having worked on the emergency effort in New York after Sept. 11, 2001.

She also worked with the Red Cross during the 1996 Fork Fire, which burned more than 83,000 acres in the Mendocino National Forest and remote areas of the county. That fire forced 75 Spring Valley residents to evacuate, she said.

For information about the shelter call the fire station, 998-3294.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



Jeff Plank unpacks a bag of blankets at the shelter Sunday night. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.




Sol Rouge Winery recently had a wine release party held at their gorgeous vineyard home in the hills above Kelseyville. It was a lovely personal gathering where Bryan and Jill Kane, hosts/winemakers, made everyone feel welcome and comfortable.

Their estate is in the Red Hills Appellation in Lake County, a rocky, hilly area with red volcanic soil, and Sol Rouge has been producing quality wines for the past three years.

Around the Kanes' patio was a decorative pillar with the Egyptian sun god Ra on it, and there was a small clay sun in another area so I assumed, “Sol Rouge” meant “Red Sun” and these little accents are charming tie-ins.

But no, as I found out with a (very) little research.

Although “Sol” means “sun” in Spanish, in French it means “soil”; therefore the name of their winery means “Red Soil,” which is apropos as the vineyard is in the “Red Hills Appellation.”

Ah, now it’s starting to make sense to me. Luckily, I’m a person who tries to keep my mouth shut until I can’t any longer. This time I kept it shut and did not display my original ignorance to anyone. So don’t tell anyone.

The gathering was small, intimate and casual, more like a cocktail party for friends than a business function. The Kanes themselves are open and welcoming, and with one of their sons enthusiastically acting as bartender/flamboyant host, it added a factor of fun and charm.

But atmosphere aside, we were there to taste their new releases. Sol Rouge is relatively new in Lake County, so I was excited to see what new items they had to offer.

The wines that were being tasted and released were Viognier, Rosé, Grenache, Gypsy, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. About half of the wines are made from grapes grown here in Lake County, and I have to say these were my favorites.

The Sol Rouge ’06 Viognier is made from grapes grown in the Russian River Valley and it was what you expect from a Viognier. It has bright fruity flavors, nice and crisp with a nice citrus/grapefruit nose. The ’07 Rosé was a surprise. I generally don’t buy Rosés because I find their flavors and characteristics to be all over the map; you never know what you’re going to get. But this one was nice. It was tart, and drier than most Rosés.

Next on the tasting menu was the ’06 Grenache. This wine was very smooth, with rich flavors and lots of cherry and blackberry notes. After that came the ’06 Gypsy, which had a rich, velvety feel. Very full-bodied, but not heavily tannic. When my wife asked me which wine I liked the best I had to admit to her, “I snuck a second glass of the Grenache.”

Now, I’m not a big fan of Zinfandels because they sometimes can be so full of tannins that they make your tongue feel furry. It’s become a habit for us when we go wine tasting that my wife will try a Zin first and then tells me if it’s something I would even want to try. Her comment after trying the Sol Rouge ’06 Zinfandel was “You will not be offended.” She was right. The tannins are very well balanced, allowing the full black cherry flavors of the Zinfandel to come through.

The ’06 Cabernet Sauvignon was my least favorite, but only because I’m not that big a fan of red wines. Not that I didn’t like it, but it was like trying to choose the least hot Charlie’s Angel. Someone’s gotta come in last, even though they’re all hot. The Cabernet stopped shy of being too tannic for my palate, and my wife (the red wine drinker in the family) thought it was very good. It had a lot of body and deep notes of cassis and black cherry. Usually in wine tastings you finish with the Zinfandel because it’s got the most tannin, but in this case the Cabernet took the final spot and it was well chosen.

Sol Rouge focuses on grape varietals from the Rhone and Bordeaux regions of southern France. This is information that you can get from their Web site at The site is still being developed, but it is fun to click on the Google earth view of the vineyard and you can learn about ordering their wines and joining their wine club.

I was very impressed by the personal welcome, the relaxed atmosphere and the impressive selection of wine. This is definitely an up-and-coming label to watch.

And just for the record, Cameron Diaz was the least hot of Charlie’s Angels.

Now before we wrap things up, I need to give a little back story to my day at Sol Rouge. The day of the release party we left our house and arrived in Kelseyville having completely forgotten the Sol Rouge address at home. Luckily I remembered that during the Lake County Wine Adventure last summer the wine shop “Focused On Wine” had hosted the winery at their shop, so we made a quick detour to Focused On Wine to ask directions.

Stephanie Cruz-Green, the owner of Focused On Wine, is an enchanting person who seems to have eternal smile affixed to her face. She is a certified sommelier (which is not an easy accomplishment), and so I felt a little guilty reducing her to the level of gas station attendant by asking her for directions, but she gave us the necessary information with friendliness and charm, and we made it right on time.

Speaking of Focused On Wine, some Sol Rouge wines are available there along with an astonishing amount and variety of other wines, including local, regional and imported wines. There’s also a variety of spirits, beer, gifts and cigars.

Focused On Wine is beautifully decorated with a relaxing atmosphere and an attentive friendly staff. There is a wine bar where you can go in and enjoy wine by the glass or enjoy a tasting flight of several wines, so this isn’t only a place where you can buy wines, but a place where you can sit down, relax and enjoy drinking a great wine. Personally, if lived on the west side of the lake I would stop in there daily to relax after work with a glass of wine before heading home for the evening.

When you are finished reading this you should head to downtown Kelseyville and stop by Focused On Wine. Introduce yourself and sit down and have a glass of wine. It’s open Thursday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, and Monday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The shop, which is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, is located at 3940 Main St.

Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community.


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