Tuesday, 23 July 2024




LAKE COUNTY – A man found guilty of robbing an area casino, carjacking and kidnapping as well as using a firearm was sentenced Monday to three decades prison.

Judge Richard Freeborn sentenced John Alan Gillies, 44, of Cloverdale to a state prison term of 30 years to life for kidnapping during the course of a carjacking, second-degree robbery and two allegations involving personal use of a firearm, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff.

Gillies will have to serve a period of 26 years and six months in prison before becoming eligible for parole, Hinchcliff said.

On May 15 Gillies was convicted by a jury at trial of the Nov. 6, 2006 kidnapping and carjacking of a Clearlake Oaks man at gunpoint, and of the subsequent robbery of the Twin Pine Casino in Middletown of $23,500, Hinchcliff reported.

The kidnapping and carjacking of the victim occurred while the victim was washing his truck at the Middletown car wash. Hinchcliff said Gillies forced the victim out of the truck on Dry Creek Cutoff, then drove the stolen truck to Twin Pine Casino where he entered wearing a mask and used a gun to rob the casino cash cage. Gillies pointed the gun at several employees inside the casino before fleeing with the money.

He was apprehended and prosecuted after a lengthy investigation by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and the California Bureau of Gambling Control, as Lake County News has reported.

At the sentencing hearing on Monday, Judge Freeborn also denied Gillies’ motion for a new trial and his motion to continue the sentencing proceeding, according to Hinchcliff.

Hinchcliff said the court heard the testimony of Jose Simon III, speaking on behalf of the Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians, the owners of the Twin Pine Casino and the victims of the robbery.

Simon requested that the court impose the maximum possible punishment in this case. He related to the court the devastating emotional impact these crimes had on the casino employees, and informed the court of the ongoing financial losses incurred by the Middletown Rancheria as a result of Gillies’ criminal conduct.

After the sentence was pronounced, Judge Freeborn remanded Gillies into the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Hinchcliff said.

Lake County Deputy District Attorney John J. Langan prosecuted this case on behalf of the People of the State of California. The defendant was represented by Mr. Thomas Quinn.


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.

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


LAKEPORT – A Clearlake man was sentenced Friday to a lengthy prison term for charges including attempted manslaughter and a felon in possession of a firearm.

Judge Richard Martin sentenced Ronell Lee Isaac, 34, to 25 years and six months prison for the October 2006 shooting of two people in Clearlake, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff.

The court found aggravating circumstances to sentence the defendant to the maximum sentence allowed based on the jury verdicts, Hinchcliff reported.

Due to the violent nature of the offenses, Isaac is only entitled to 15 percent credit off of his prison sentence, said Hinchcliff. Isaac will not be eligible for parole until sometime in 2028.

On May 15 a jury found Isaac guilty of two counts of attempted voluntary manslaughter and unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, Hinchcliff said. Special allegations of personal use of a firearm as well as causing great bodily injury to the two victims were found to be true.

The charges stem from a shooting that occurred in the city of Clearlake on Oct. 12, 2006 in front of the American Legion Hall, according to Hinchcliff's report.

Isaac shot two people – a male and female adult – both of whom were admitted to the hospital with serious injuries, including a gunshot wound to the female victim’s liver, and a gunshot wound to the stomach, hand, buttocks and knee of the male victim, Hinchcliff said.

The male victim was shot from behind as he was attempting to flee from Isaac. Hinchcliff said Isaac testified at trial that he was acting in self defense.

After the shooting Isaac fled to Nevada County and was apprehended there on Dec. 20, 2006, Hinchcliff said.

Mike Hermann and Martin Snyder were the Clearlake Police Department's primary investigators on the case, Hinchcliff said. Deputy District Attorney Susan Krones prosecuted the jury trial against Isaac, who was defended by attorney Jason Webster.


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.

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


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.

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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 – The Lake County Air Quality Management District reported Thursday that smoke from wildfires in the county and in Mendocino County have resulted in smoke, haze and degraded air quality that exceed state and federal health standards for particulate.

In addition to the 14,000-acre Walker Fire, multiple large fires exist to the east, south, north and west of Lake County, so smoke continues to enter the basin no matter where the wind originates, Air Pollution Control Officer Bob Reynolds reported.

All of Northern California is being impacted by severely degraded air quality and many areas are reporting markedly higher levels than Lake County, according to Reynolds.

Air monitoring data in Lakeport, Anderson Springs and Glenbrook showed violations of health-based standards to include the small respirable particulate state Ambient Air Quality Standard at all sites by 155 percent to 223 percent, Reynolds said. The federal ultrafine, inhalable, particulate air standard was exceeded by 278 percent.

These values are considered representative of areas not adjacent to fires in Lake County; Reynolds said values may be higher in those areas.

Smokey conditions can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and air passages, which can be hazardous in young children, the elderly, individuals with heart conditions or chronic lung disease such as asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory conditions.

Even though local hospitals report no unusual increases in illness likely to be related to poor air quality, Lake County health officials recommend taking simple precautions in order to stay healthy.

Because of the uncertainty of fire conditions, Lake County Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Tait advises residents near the fires to be prepared. Individuals with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and other lung or heart diseases should make sure that they have at least a five-day supply of any prescribed medications. Individuals with asthma should carefully follow their asthma management plans.

Anyone, regardless of known health conditions, should seek medical attention if they experience unusual symptoms of chest pain, chest tightness, or shortness of breath.

Residents who live near the affected areas should be prepared to stay indoors, avoid vigorous physical activity and check for a "recirculation" function on the air conditioner.

If smoke is present, it will be easier to breathe indoors if air is recirculating instead of drawing smoky air from outdoors. Strong consideration should be given to moving planned outdoor events to an indoor location or rescheduling them, especially if they involve sports or similar activities.

The poor air quality is a direct result of these dispersed, numerous wildfires within the California Coastal Mountains, said Reynolds. Smoke is trapped in the cooler marine air layer and transported inland, causing the 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.

The smoke and sunlight cause chemical reactions in the air that further reduces visibility by forming secondary particles in addition to those already in the smoke, Reynolds explained. These particles draw the moisture out of the air, growing in number and size, making the haze even worse.

Residual haze and particulate from these fires can be expected to continue throughout areas of Northern California until the fires are out, Reynolds said.


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.




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.

View Google Map

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.

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


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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