Monday, 22 July 2024


LUCERNE – A travel trailer that caught fire Monday afternoon caused an outage of Mediacom Internet and television services along much of the Northshore and parts of Lakeport.

Northshore Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Lou Dukes said firefighters were dispatched to the fire at 11:23 a.m.

The fire broke out in the 40-foot trailer as a local man who had borrowed it was returning it to Clearlake. As he drove eastbound along Highway 20, Dukes said the man noticed the fire.

“He looked in his rear view mirror and flames were coming out of the trailer,” Dukes explained.

Firefighters arrived minutes later to find the trailer parked in front of the Paradise Cove subdivision east of Lucerne, said Dukes. By that time, the trailer already was fully involved.

Northshore Fire and Cal Fire sent a total of five pieces of equipment and eight firefighters, said Dukes.

Dukes said there was potential for the fire to get into nearby vegetation, but by 11:32 p.m. firefighters had contained it, and completely extinguished it a short time later.

It took another hour to mop up the smoldering trailer, said Dukes. No injuries were reported, and the cause of the fire isn't yet known.


The fire did, however, manage to damage a Mediacom cable line, said Dukes.

The trailer had been pulled off the road, where it was sitting underneath Mediacom's fiberoptic line and power lines, said Dukes. The power lines were OK, but the cable lines were burned enough to knock out service.

A Mediacom service representative reported that the fire took out service in Nice, Upper Lake, Lucerne and the Robin Hill area of Lakeport.

Cable and TV services in the affected areas weren't restored until 7 p.m., two hours after Mediacom originally estimated repairs would be complete.

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A Cal Fire engine and crew at the scene of the fire putting out hot spots on Sunday. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



NICE – Firefighters continued their work Sunday mopping up at the scene of a 128-acre fire that was contained Saturday night.

Cal Fire reported that the fire broke out behind Robinson Rancheria Saturday afternoon, quickly climbing up the hill and into steep terrain. Firefighters from Cal Fire, and Northshore and Lakeport Fire Protection Districts fought the blaze.

At the scene Sunday, the trail of the fire was clearly visible, making its way from behind Robinson Rancheria Bingo & Casino, traveling over the hill and back toward more steep terrain near Pyle Road.

Firefighters cut trees and dealt with remaining hot spots around the area of the fire, which left a huge blackened footprint.

Rachelle Trimmer of the Cal Fire Incident Command Center reported that 80 firefighters were on duty Sunday, including a five-engine strike team and supervisors, and a water tender.

Trimmer said one engine with four firefighters would remain at the scene overnight.

Northshore Fire District Chief Jim Robbins said the fire was the largest his agency has fought so far this fire season.

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About 80 firefighters were on the scene Sunday, with that crew being reduced to one engine and four firefighters Sunday night. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

LAKE COUNTY – The California Highway Patrol (CHP) is advising California residents to be aware of people soliciting donations on behalf of the department’s members.

Officer Josh Dye of the Clear Lake CHP office said he was recently notified that a local woman had received a call from someone claiming to be a CHP officer from the local office who was seeking donations for a charity.

Dye reported that the woman later received a letter that looked official and had instructions for where to send her donation.

“The CHP does not seek out donations in this manner,” Dye said in an e-mail message.

Dye said that the local CHP office has participated in the local “Tip A Cop” fundraiser, as well as activities for Special Olympics, but, he added, “We will never call seeking funds.”

CHP headquarters in Sacramento also reported that many people around the state in recent weeks have reported receiving letters and phone calls requesting the donations to the “American Association of State Troopers” that support their CHP members.

The CHP warns that these letters and calls are not from representatives of the California Highway Patrol or its retirees.

“The CHP, its officers, its unions, our Widows and Orphans Fund, and The 11-99 Foundation never solicit funds from the general public by phone, mail, Internet or in person,” stated CHP Commissioner Mike Brown. “If anyone contacts you claiming they represent CHP officers or their families and seek contributions, tell them no.”

The 11-99 Foundation is a nonprofit organization of individuals who contribute to CHP employees and their families in time of need. 11-99 is the CHP radio code for officer requiring help in an emergency. Information about the CHP’s 11-99 Foundation is available by visiting .

As per the CHP’s written request in November 2006, the American Association of State Troopers agreed to discontinue using the department’s name in soliciting donations. However, it appears letters and phone calls are again surfacing. Anyone with questions or concerns please contact your local CHP office.

“We appreciate the public’s desire to help our families in their time of need, but I want to emphasize that we are not and have not been soliciting funds,” said Commissioner Brown.


LAKE COUNTY Lake County's June 2007 unemployment rate was 7.2 percent, matching last month's rate, but up slightly from the year-ago June 2006 rate of 6.7 percent.

This compares to a seasonally unadjusted rate of 5.2 percent for the state and 4.7 percent for the nation for the month, according to Dennis Mullins of the Employment Development Department.

Lake County's unemployment rate ranked it No. 42 among California's 58 counties, according to statistics Mullins provided.

Surrounding county rates included 8.7 percent for Glenn, 10.7 percent for Colusa, 4.3 percent for Sonoma and 5.1 percent for Mendocino, Mullins reported. Marin had the lowest rate in the state with 3.7 percent and Imperial County had the highest at 16.6 percent.

Total industry employment in Lake County grew by 220 jobs (1.4 percent) between June 2006 and June 2007, said Mullins, ending the year-over period with 15,910 jobs.

Year-over job growth occurred in farm; natural resources, mining and construction; trade, transportation and utilities; information; leisure and hospitality; and government, Mullins reported. Year-over job losses occurred in financial activities, and professional and business services.

Industry sectors with no change over the year included manufacturing, private educational and health services, and other services, according to Mullins' report.

The Farm sector again led industry gainers for the year-over period adding 130 jobs, Mullins noted. Government gained 60. Natural resources, mining, and construction added 30 jobs and trade, transportation, and utilities was up 20. Information, and leisure and hospitality were each up 10 jobs. Professional and business services was down 30 and financial activities dropped 10 jobs for the period.


LAKE COUNTY – Last week Lake County Sheriff's Office (LCSO) deputies and members of a recently formed task force conducted an operation to make sure convicted sex offenders are following registration requirements.

A report from LCSO Det. Mike Curran of the said that on July 23 and July 24, a sex registrant compliance and enforcement sweep was conducted by the Region II Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement (SAFE) Task Force in the City of Clearlake and south Lake County.

The Region II SAFE Task Force is funded through a grant from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and covers 12 counties along the North Coast from Monterey County to Del Norte County.

Approximately 130 registrants were contacted to ensure that they are in compliance with their sex registrant requirements, in particular that the registrants are residing at the address given during registration, Curran reported.

Registrants with parole and/or probation search terms were also subject to search conducted at the time of contact. Several arrests were made and additional investigations were initiated as a result of alleged registration violations.

Staffing shortages at the sheriff’s office have created a real challenge for the patrol and investigations divisions to perform brief quarterly compliance checks, reported Curran, as well as initiating investigations on registrants known to be out of compliance with their sex registration responsibilities. Periodic compliance/enforcement operations such as the one just completed will take place on both ends of Lake County.

Agents assigned to the task force coordinate with agencies within their respective counties for operations such as the one just completed in Lake County, and also assist agents within the region with operations in their own respective county, according to Curran's report.

SAFE Task Force Agents from Santa Clara County, Humboldt County, Del Norte County and Napa County participated in the operation, Curran reported.

Additional agencies involved in the operation were the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, Clearlake Police Department, Lake County Probation Department, Lake County District Attorney’s Office, Lakeport Police Department and State Parole. Curran, a Lake County SAFE Task Force agent, coordinated the operation.

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith submitted the grant for the task force, which was approved and funded by the Governor’s Office of Emergency Service, Curran reported.

Smith’s desire to pursue a regional task force has added a seriously needed tool for law enforcement not only for her county, but for every county, especially the smaller ones covered within the grant boundaries that allows funding and staffing for sex registrant compliance/enforcement operations, according to Curran's report.

Thanks to Smith's innovative efforts, LCSO – which might otherwise not have been able to carry out such an operation due to a lack of available funding – is able to participate in this most-needed aspect of protecting the public, Curran reported.

Sheriff Rod Mitchell expressed his gratitude to Smith for including Lake County in the grant funding, and said he applauded her for her initiative and innovation.


A Cal Fire air tanker drops fire retardant on a fire behind Robinson Rancheria Saturday. Photo by Dave Hendrick.


NICE – Firefighters are battling a fire that has reached 50 acres in size close to Robinson Rancheria.

Suzie Blankenship, a Cal Fire fire prevention specialist, said the fire was reported at 3:45 p.m. It broke out in steep, rugged terrain behind the playground, which is located behind the main area of the rancheria.

Northshore Fire Protection District, Cal Fire and the Lake County Sheriff's Office were among the agencies at the scene. Blankenship said seven engines, four dozers, three fire handcrews, one air attack, five air tankers and three helicopters were on scene, along with two officers on the ground helping an incident commander organize the effort.

Blankenship said firefighters were having difficulty fighting the fire because of high-tension power lines in the area.

“They have to work around those,” she said.

The power lines were limiting the use of air crews, Blankenship added.

No structures currently are threatened, said Blankenship.

The cause of the fire, said Blankenship, is under investigation.

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A Solares House Moving truck tows the Ely Stage Stop toward its new location. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

KELSEYVILLE – After weeks of final preparations, the Ely Stage Stop was moved to its new home on Sunday.

The move was originally scheduled to take place over the next week, with the house being moved in stages across Highway 29 and then through cattle pastures and oak woodland.

However a lot of prep work completed this past week apparently allowed Solares House Moving – the Bay Area firm with the contract to complete the move – to complete the move in one day.

On Thursday the house had been moved from its original location to a staging area down toward S Bar S Ranch where it would cross the highway. A trail also was cleared across the open ground to the site of a new Ely Stage Stop museum along Soda Bay Road, which will be owned by the county but run by the Lake County Historical Society.

The work day began early on Sunday, with Caltrans closing the highway at 6 a.m. and California Highway Patrol standing by.

A Pacific Gas & Electric crew worked to raise power lines to let the house – reportedly built around 1859-1860 – pass underneath.

With the lines raised and the house hooked up to a semi towing truck, the house began to move across Highway 29 and then through the fields just before 8 a.m.

Historical Society President Randy Ridgel and wife Jackie, the group's secretary, along with Board of Directors member Kevin Engle, were on hand to witness the move, recording it with both film and photography.

The house movers stopped to build a bridge over a part of Thurston Creek and continued the move in the afternoon.

Kelly Cox, the county's chief administrative officer, watched the move throughout the day. He said the house finally moved up the hill to the museum site at about 5 p.m. after a few hours of “painstakingly slow” progress. At the final push the movers used a cable to pull the house up, inch by inch, said Cox.

County Deputy Redevelopment Director Eric Seely, who was away this week and unable to be there for the move, was given an update on the progress via cell phone, said Cox.

Seely has spent several years working to make the museum project a reality. Cox said Seely was glad to hear the house had survived the move and safely arrived at its new location.

Cox said next come the foundation, roof and siding, which will be done in stages. Seely said the work will be done in stages, as funding allows.

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A Pacific Gas & Electric crew prepared the power lines to be raised so the house could pass underneath. Photo by John Jensen.



The stage stop building, just before it began its move across the highway. Photo by John Jensen.



On Sunday, the house was towed along a dirt path cleared for the trip. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

A Cal Fire air tanker drops fire retardant on a fire that began behind Robinson Rancheria Saturday. Photo by Dave Hendrick.


NICE – Northshore firefighters took on their largest wildland fire of the season so far, battling a Saturday afternoon blaze that burned 128 acres near Robinson Rancheria.

Suzie Blankenship, a Cal Fire fire prevention specialist, said the fire was reported at 3:45 p.m. It broke out in steep, rugged terrain behind the rancheria's playground, which is located behind the main area of the rancheria.

Witnesses at the scene said the fire then burned up into the hills toward Nice.

Northshore Fire Protection District, Cal Fire and Lakeport Fire Protection District responded to the scene, said Northshore Chief Jim Robbins. The Lake County Sheriff's Office also was at the scene to control traffic.

Blankenship said Cal Fire sent seven engines, four dozers, three fire handcrews, one air attack, five air tankers and three helicopters, along with two officers on the ground helping an incident commander organize the effort.

Another five engines from Northshore Fire responded, said Robbins, along with two four-wheel drive attack units, he and a battalion chief. Lakeport Fire also sent an engine.

Blankenship said firefighters had difficulty fighting the fire because of high-tension power lines in the area, which limited the use of air crews.

The fire was contained at 7:15 p.m., said Blankenship.

However, the fire was far from out at that point, said Robbins.

“There's still a lot of hot spots,” he said from the scene.

Because of the need to monitor the area, Robbins said crews were being ordered in overnight.

No single family dwellings were threatened, said Robbins, although a few small sheds that were buried in the remote area's brush were destroyed.

There were no injuries to area residents or firefighters, said Robbins.

Robbins said it was the biggest blaze that Northshore Fire has had to fight so far this season.

The wind helped the fire spread rapidly, said Robbins.

“We went from 20 acres to about 60, 70 acres in less than 20 minutes, it had such a good westerly wind on it,” he said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, said Robbins. A Cal Fire official was at the fire scene Saturday evening in an effort to determine the source.

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LUCERNE – An early morning house fire in Lucerne on Friday revealed a marijuana cultivation operation that officials are now investigating.

Sheriff Rod Mitchell said Friday that fire officials and sheriff's deputies responding to the fire, located in a home along Foothill Drive, discovered a large number of marijuana plants.

Mitchell said the Lake County Narcotics Task Force also responded to the scene, where they seized approximately 70 marijuana plants.

An undisclosed number of plants were left behind as a certain number of those plants were deemed by the agents to growing in accordance with the provisions of Proposition 215, California's medical marijuana law, said Mitchell.

An investigation into the cultivation of the seized marijuana is under way, Mitchell added.

Mitchell deferred questions about the cause and origin of the fire to Northshore Fire Protection District. However, a call to Northshore Fire Chief Jim Robbins for more information about the fire was not returned.

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The third Bartlett Springs Resort lodge, pictured May 6, 2007. This lodge was built after its predecessor blew down in a 1988 windstorm. The lodge was destroyed by a fire Saturday. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



BARTLETT SPRINGS – This weekend, two local buildings with important connections to the county's past met very different fates.

On Sunday, the Ely Stage Stop began its move to a new museum location. A day earlier, the reconstructed Bartlett Springs Resort lodge was burned to the ground.

“It's completely gone,” said Zane Gray, the resort's caretaker since 1982, of the main lodge building.

The fire was reported Saturday afternoon, said Gray. On Sunday, he went to survey the damage, which included five acres of brush land and the building.

A US Forest Service investigator is working to determine the fire's cause, Gray said. The Mendocino National Forest office in Willows couldn't be reached over the weekend for comment.

However, Gray said he believes it was arson, saying that fire officials told him Sunday that the fire appears to have started in the lodge building.

“It couldn't have started by itself,” he maintained, explaining that the propane tanks were removed several years ago, and the electricity was turned off.

“Somebody had to match it, that's all,” he said.

The lodge building that burned Saturday was located at the site of the resort's original lodge, which burned down in 1934. It was rebuilt, with that incarnation of the lodge blowing down in a windstorm in 1988, said Gray.

“I had the building all totally rebuilt in 1989,” said Gray. “It cost the company $171,000 at that time to do the upgrade on it.”

The nearby gazebo, said Gray, was spared in Saturday's fire. “The fire burned right to it but never touched it.”

Gray said he rebuilt the gazebo in 1985, installing new timbers and lumber in an attempt to put it back the way it was at the turn of the 20th century.

The Bartlett Springs Resort's history stretches back to the 1870s, after a mineral spring was discovered there by Napa resident Greene Bartlett during a camping trip, according to The Bartlett Springs Area: Past & Present, written in 2005 by Upper Lake resident Michelle Wells.

Bartlett, who suffered from rheumatism, believed in the springs' healing abilities, Wells' history reports, so he filed a claim for the 160 acres around the spring.

A resort would later be built there, Wells wrote, that included three hotels, camping areas, two stores, mineral steam baths, a bottling facility, a concert hall, stores, a doctor's office and numerous recreational activities – swimming, golf, croquet, tennis, riding, bowling and more.

A Justice of the Peace and constable even were stationed at the resort, Wells wrote, explaining, “because it was so isolated it became more like its own little town as well.”

Known by friends and neighbors as “the mayor of Bartlett Springs,” Gray, who will be 80 in September, has cared for the 1,990-acre property for the last 25 years.

A self-described “pretty tough old man,” Gray is a World War II veteran who moved to Lake County in 1978 with his wife, Frances.

During the time Gray has acted as caretaker, the resort has changed hands a few times, purchased by the French water bottling company Vittel in 1984, who later sold the property to Nestle in 1993. The Vittel bottling plant was later sold separately, and is today the home of Tulip Hill Winery in Nice.

Gray has worked hard over the years to preserve and improve the remaining resort buildings.

The resort suffered damage in the 1996 Fork Fire, said Gray. The two-week Fork Fire reportedly burned 83,000 acres in the Mendocino National Forest and on private property, destroying 11 structures.

Of those structures destroyed, one was a small second house on Gray's 12-acre property near the resort.

A member of the Northshore Fire Protection District, Gray helped fight the Fork Fire and tried to protect the resort then as well.

“We were able to save the lodge at that time and all of the buildings, except for two of the old cabins that were from the 1890s era, and I had just restored them,” he said.

In recent years, despite his care, Gray has been fighting a losing battle against vandals intent on destroying the resort buildings.

Vandalism has been going on in Bartlett Springs “nearly forever,” he said, adding, “It's picked up in the last two years.”

He's found a lot of people on the property – mostly young people, he added – and despite chasing them off the problems have continued.

A visit this reporter made to the lodge in May – granted access by Gray – revealed windows, walls bashed in, bullet holes, kicked in doors and evidence of parties, including trash and beer bottles.

There have also been bouts of arson in the area, said Gray, with a “firebug” around caught there a few years ago after setting some fires.

Gray said he notified Nestle of the building's destruction, and hasn't received word what the company might do. He said he doesn't think that they will rebuild the lodge.

Editor's note: Zane Gray is the great-uncle of Lake County News Editor Elizabeth Larson.




The historic Bartlett Springs Resort gazebo, restored in 1985 by caretaker Zane Gray, pictured on May 6, 2007. The gazebo escaped the fire that burned the resort's lodge on Saturday. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

The US Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Department says it will reexamine several endangered species decisions that may have been interfered with by a former assistant secretary.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced July 20 that it will reconsider eight decisions involving endangered species that were overseen by former Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald.

MacDonald was a Bush appointee who joined the Department of the Interior in July 2002. She resigned April 30 following an investigation by the Department of Interior’s Inspector General that found she had used her position to violate the Endangered Species Act, rewrote scientific reports, browbeat agency scientists and colluded with industry lawyers to generate lawsuits against the Fish and Wildlife Service.

During a July 2 Congressional hearing in Vallejo, MacDonald's role in influencing environmental decisions in the Bay-Delta came to light in testimony given by Steve Thompson, manager of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife's California/Nevada Operations Office, as Lake County News previously reported.

Congressman Mike Thompson questioned Steve Thompson about if the agency had been under political pressure to change science used for decisions in the Bay-Delta, similar to how Vice President Dick Cheney used political influence in a decision last year that resulted in the death sof 70,000 salmon in the Klamath River.

Steve Thompson said MacDonald had shown interest in the agency's work on delta smelt, a seriously threatened fish that calls the Bay-Delta home.

But he said he couldn't discuss the issue further, as another Inspector General's investigation is under way into the matter.

Growing concern over the role MacDonald might have played in compromising science in the name of politics has resulted in calls for Fish and Wildlife to reconsider decisions that may have been tainted by her influence, as well as Congressional hearings on the matter.


Red-legged frog decision slated for reconsideration 

The final critical habitat designation for the California red-legged frog is one of the endangered species decisions that will be re-examined because the decision was potentially tainted by MacDonald, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that helped bring MacDonald's actions to light.

The red-legged frog was made famous in Mark Twain's 1865 short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

The frog once ranged across most of California, according to a Fish and Wildlife report. In the late 1800s and early 1900s it was harvested excessively for food, and today only occurs in about 10 percent of its historic locations.

The frog is found in 238 streams and drainages in 23 counties statewide, including Lake County. Project documents from the county's proposed Middle Creek Ecosystem Restoration Project state that the red-legged frog is among several “special-status wildlife species” that the plan could help by creating additional wetland, riparian habitat and open space. Other county planning documents reveal that major projects must ensure that they don't impact the frogs.

In 2006 the Fish and Wildlife Service slashed the critical habitat protection for the red-legged frog by 90 percent, which the center called “a giveaway to the development industry” and which conservation groups called “a recipe for extinction of the frog.”

The service cited a biased and controversial economic analysis as justification for cutting the original designation from 4.1 million acres to 450,288 acres of critical habitat, according to the center. The final critical habitat designation excluded much of the areas the service had previously determined are necessary for the long-term survival and recovery of the frog.

The other species which will get another look from Fish and Wildlife include:

  • White-tailed prairie dog;

  • Preble’s meadow jumping mouse;

  • 12 species of Hawaiian picture-wing flies;

  • Arroyo toad;

  • Southwestern willow flycatcher;

  • Canada lynx.

The Center for Biological Diversity issued a statement in which it said that, while it's glad these species will receive consideration for additional protection, but that the effort falls short of what's needed to address MacDonald's damage to endangered species protections. The center added that it appears to be more a token effort to deflect criticism.

“Fish and Wildlife’s reconsideration of eight decisions tainted by former assistant secretary Julie MacDonald is a day late and a dollar short,” said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Despite no scientific training, MacDonald interfered in dozens of scientific decisions concerning endangered species--only a full and transparent accounting of all the decisions tainted by MacDonald’s malignant influence can undue the damage she has done.”

The center said the list fails to include decisions to not list the Mexican garter snake, to potentially delist the marbled murrelet, and to sharply reduce critical habitat for the bull trout, even though regional directors of the Fish and Wildlife Service specifically requested that these decisions be reconsidered because of MacDonald’s influence.

The list also fails to include reconsideration of critical habitat for the Sacramento splittail, even though a story by the Contra Costa Times revealed that MacDonald may have illegally limited designation of habitat to avoid an 80-acre farm she owns in Dixon.

The center reported that MacDonald is known to have been involved in reversing numerous other decisions by agency scientists to protect species, including decisions over Gunnison sage grouse, Montana fluvial arctic grayling, Mexican garter snake, Southwestern bald eagle and many others. These decisions should also be reconsidered.

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CLEARLAKE OAKS – A Friday afternoon collision may have been caused by driving under the influence.

The California Highway Patrol incident logs reported that a collision between a semi truck and a small pickup took place at about 2:18 p.m. on eastbound Highway 20 at Keys Boulevard.

The CHP reported there were major injuries involved in the crash, but it was not clear how many people may have been injured or were transported to area hospitals.

At least one subject was transported to Redbud Hospital, where a forced blood draw – usually done when alcohol or drugs are suspected – was to have taken place, according to the CHP logs.

No further information was available from CHP Friday evening.


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