Friday, 14 June 2024


MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST – Firefighters held the advance of the Soda Complex of fires to only 20 acres of growth on Saturday, with the amount of containment remaining steady.

The fires, which have burned 8,381 acres on the Mendocino National Forest's Upper Lake Ranger District near Lake Pillsbury, remained at 79-percent containment Saturday, according to a Saturday report from Forest Service spokesman Marc Peebles.

The Mill Fire, the last and largest of the complex's four fires, has burned 2,772 acres, Peebles reported. Its estimated full containment date is this coming Wednesday.

Peebles reported that 744 firefighters under the command of Southern California Incident Management Team No. 3 – based at Upper Lake High School – are fighting the Mill fire as well as continuing patrol on the areas of the other fires that already have been contained – the Monkey Rock, Big and Back fires.

On Friday, the Mill Fire once again got past containment lines, burning 150 acres to the southeast and northeast of the fire, Peebles said. Several spot fires also have occurred.

Peebles said six residences – located between Deadmans Flat and Sunset Gap to the east flank of the fire – are under evacuation at this time, which the Lake and Mendocino County Sheriff’s offices coordinating evacuations.

Also on the Mendocino National Forest, the Vinegar Fire – which is in the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness – has burned 10,235 acres and is 30-percent contained, according to Forest Service spokesperson Phebe Brown.

The Vinegar Fire is part of the Lime Complex, which has burned 25,558 acres in Trinity and Tehama counties, Brown reported.

Lake County's air looked murkier in some areas again on Saturday, as smoke continued to come into the northern part of the county from the Mendocino Lightning Complex, which was contained on Thursday.

Doug Gearhart, Lake County's deputy air pollution control officer, said air quality should be back in the good range by Sunday.

Gearhart said smoke will likely continue in the county until all of the fires around Northern California are finally out.

Cal Fire reported Saturday that of the approximately 2,093 fires that had raged across the state at the peak of this past month's deluge of wildfires, 38 are still actively burning.

In all, those fires have burned 926,427 acres, Cal Fire reported.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I hadn’t been to Cabo’s restaurant in Clearlake in quite a while, and I did remember it as having really good food, so I thought that it was time to go again.

Normally I’m an eat-alone type of person. It could be a primal urge from when mankind had to fight for every scrap of food, so he’d tear a piece off a carcass and then run away from the group in order to not lose his food to a stronger tribe member. Maybe it just gives me a chance to enjoy my food with my own thoughts and not have to worry about entertaining dinner guests with conversation. But most likely it’s because if I eat alone, I’m free to flirt with the cute waitresses. Hey, I’m getting older and having a young, pretty girl smile at me is now the highlight of my day.

But this time my wife, daughter and I all went out to eat together, and wouldn’t you know it, there was a smokin’ hot waitress there. Oh well, time to concentrate on the meal I guess.

When you first arrive, you are seated with warm tortilla chips and a couple types of salsa. What is it about that combination that makes you instantly ravenous? Everyone at the table snatches at chips until the basket is empty and the waitress brings more and the process starts again.

Before I go on, I will first have to mention that I love spicy food. No, probably not like you enjoy spicy food, I’m much more hard-core than that. I consider Tabasco sauce so mild that it can be used to clean wounds. I have a large assortment of hot sauces in my fridge, and my wife can only handle two of them. So I naturally decided to have the Camerones a la Diablo, The Devil’s Shrimp. My wife had the chicken fajitas, and my daughter ordered the garlic fries and shrimp cocktail.

The Camerones a la Diablo and the chicken fajitas each came with a trip to the salad bar, which isn’t anything very impressive, but I can see its being missed by folks if they didn’t have it. I would have forgone the trip to the salad bar had I any idea of the amount of food that was about to be placed in front of me.

The entree comes on extra-large plates, packed to the absolute brim with ingredients; you are going to be full by the end of this meal. Two words of warning: one, unless you have asbestos hands, don’t grab the plate – HOT, HOT and HOT! And two, you only get two tortillas (your choice, flour or corn) with your order, so you will want to request some extra tortillas on the side to handle all of the food.

My shrimp were well cooked, and as I tasted the sauce I was impressed by the complexity of flavor, but thought that it wasn’t spicy enough to justify the namesake. I shared these thoughts with my wife, so she tried the sauce and then said in a strained, breathy voice, “It’s hot enough; the back of my throat is melting.” Oops, sorry, it made my lips tingle but that’s about it.

The shrimp came with refried beans, rice, grilled vegetables, sour cream and guacamole. The chicken fajitas come with the same accompaniments, and they were all well cooked and delicious.

The shrimp cocktail was nothing like what we were expecting. It was warm with the shrimp swimming in a mild, soupy sauce. I wouldn’t say it was bad; it just isn’t what we were expecting. The garlic fries are covered in cheese and garlic, and the cooking process caramelizes the garlic making it fantastically sweet. But like the rest of the food, the plate is piled so high that this is not a one-person dish. These fries would make a good shared plate for four people.

The price for dinner was fair for the amount of food served, and we left with full bellies and plenty of left-overs. The décor has a touristy, “cabo flair” to it and a wide-open feel so it doesn’t seem crowded as the room fills up, and it does fill up so get there early for best seating.

Note to the readers who are shocked at my flirting with young waitresses: my wife has been my own personal editor for everything I have written for years. You would be shocked at some of the things that she has edited out over the years! By comparison, my flirting with waitresses is tame, especially if my wife lets it slip through!

Note from Ross’s wife/editor: Ross is like a strong alcoholic drink, best in small doses over a long period of time; too much too fast can cause vomiting with accompanied groans.

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Officer Dallas Richey is investigating the incident, Garcia said.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


CLEARLAKE – A teenager accused of the murder of a schoolmate was in court Friday for the setting of her preliminary hearing date.

Gabrielle Rachel Varney, 18, is facing charges of murder and a special allegation of using a knife in the June 5 death of 17-year-old Heather Valdez. Varney pleaded not guilty to the charges last month.

Her attorney, Stephen Carter, said Varney went before Judge Richard Freeborn in Lake County Superior Court's Department 4 Friday afternoon.

Carter said Varney's preliminary hearing in the case will be held Tuesday, Sept. 30.

He said the case will be called on Sept. 26 for the purpose of assigning the preliminary hearing to a specific department.

Varney and Valdez allegedly were involved in a confrontation after getting off the school bus from Carlé High School, where they were both students, as Lake County News has reported.

Police said the girls had been involved in a feud for months before the fight occurred.

Varney remains in the Lake County Jail.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An American Towing truck removed the van from the scene.

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

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


The $16 million Walker Ridge curve realignment is expected to be completed this fall. Photo courtesy of Caltrans.


LAKE COUNTY – A multimillion-dollar road improvement project which state officials believe will increase highway safety is continuing in the south county.

The Walker Ridge curve realignment is taking place along Highway 20. The project is likely familiar to drivers who have experienced stops in the area while road crews continue their work.

Caltrans spokesman Phil Frisbie said the $16 million project was awarded to Argonaut Construction in September of 2006, when some minor prep work was performed. Major work didn't begin until April of 2007.

It's the largest Caltrans project under construction in Lake County at this time, said Frisbie.

The project, which Frisbie said is expected to be completed this fall, includes a large retaining wall where the highway has been widened.

“It's realigning some of the curves to increase sight distance and it's also widening the shoulders and installing some new drainage systems,” he said.

The project, said Frisbie, is meant to increase safety along the stretch of highway.

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Caltrans intends for the project to help increase sight distance and safety, along with widening the road and installing new drainage. Photo courtesy of Caltrans.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For information about other fires around the state, visit

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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