Wednesday, 24 July 2024


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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HIDDEN VALLEY LAKE – It would be easy to report that “The Fish” won this year’s Hidden Valley Lake Association Fishing Derby: Only 24 fish were caught compared to 65 last year.

However, at 6 a.m. Saturday, 42 anglers signed up at the marina to take the opportunity to compete for some great fishing prizes, and to contribute to the HVL Lake Committee's continued effort to improve and increase the fishery in Hidden Valley Lake.

In spite of some initial wind, they eventually enjoyed what turned out to be a beautiful day on our Hidden Valley Lake.

Winner of the prize for the Senior Division’s Heaviest Fish with a 2.54-pound Bass was 19-year-old Chris Gracheff, who also caught a second 1.81-pound bass.

The Junior Division winner, with a 1.80-pound bass, was 12-year-old Jesse Armstrong.

Chris won the 50-50 cash pool prize of $70, and Jesse won a rod, reel, and complete tackle pack valued at about $60.

The Senior Division’s heaviest stringer of bass was caught by 16-year-old Scott Munk. His five fish weighed in at 7.61 pounds.

The Junior Division winner of this category was Jesse Armstrong. Jesse brought in five bass with a total weight of 6.91 pounds. Both won rods, reels, and tackle packs valued at more than $50.

Justin White, 9, caught the only trout in the Derby. Justin’s 0.33-pound trout won him the Junior Division Trout Stringer prize of a rod, reel, and tackle pack valued at $50.

Also catching fish were Jim Munk (five bass), Fernando Carneiro (two bass), Brad Michnevich (two bass), Carter Michnevich (one bass) and Brady Michnevich (one bass).

All anglers received complimentary insulated lunch bags from the HVL Community Services Division.

The oldest angler award was a sassy fishing cap, an Arctic Circle jacket and T-shirt. That prize, once again, went to the venerable, 75-year-old Ron Hughes. The youngest angler award went to the very excited Justin Foell, age 6, who won a SolarBee Cap and youth fishing rig.

The Derby Raffle proved to be a source of big winnings for the anglers, and also for the many volunteers and the approximately 30 guests who were in attendance.

There were more than 45 raffle prizes donated by our generous donors. This year’s prizes also included the fishing awards which were not claimed, and Scott Munk’s prize, which he graciously returned to the fundraising pool.

Also this year there were two special raffle fishing trips: One for halibut, provided by professional sports fishing guide, Mike Martin, and one for bass by professional bass fisherman Chuck Michnevich.

Longtime derby participant, young Katreena Galindo, won the Grand Raffle Prize of a Lakeshore Bait and Tackle Cap, an Arctic Circle jacket, rod, reel and complete tackle pack valued at nearly $200.

The Special Raffle Halibut Trip was won by Duncan Mac Innes. Kyle Triola came away with the Special Bass Trip prize. Each trip is valued at nearly $300.

Because of an efficient Live-Well set up at the Little Beach weigh-in site, we were able to preserve and release all, but one, of the bass to the Lake.

As in previous years, anglers and guests enjoyed the nearly-all-you-can-eat grilled hot dogs and Vicki’s chili lunch.

Proceeds from these lunches, the raffles, our generous cash donations and the derby entrance fees totaled $2,531 – within $100 of last year’s gross revenues.

More than the dollars, however, the derby was for the fun, the happy prize winners and the good sportsmanship.

Even all those lucky fish were happy ... and are still lurking in the lake to test your skills!

Jim Serventi lives in Hidden Valley Lake, and assisted with putting on this year's event.


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..


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MIDDLETOWN – Facing budget challenges and the potential for tough times ahead, the Middletown Unified School District Board plans to discuss possible solutions at a meeting next week, where they'll also present the 2008-09 fiscal year budget.

Superintendent Korby Olson said the June 25 board meeting will include consideration of a charge to bus children to school – in light of major increases in fuel costs – and a possible increase in developer fees.

Both proposals will impact the district’s budget, as well as builders and parents, so Olson said the district wants to invite comment and input up front. No action will be taken on the proposals at the meeting.

Initially, the district, which serves about 1,700 students, was looking at having to cut as much as $850,000 from its $14 million budget, based on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed January budget. However, Olson said the May revise reduced necessary cuts by about $200,000.

In March the district gave out 10 layoff notice to teachers, said Olson. Six of those positions ultimately were cut from the district, but three positions were restored, four teachers retired, two resigned and one took a leave of absence.

The budget and its specifics will be presented at the June 25 meeting, he said.

Jim Comstock, who has been on the school board for 18 years, said he's seen similar tough times for the district “but not to this extent.”

“School financing tracks with the California economy,” Comstock said. “It's very cyclic.”

In past years, the district has issued layoff notices, but they've almost always been able to rescind them. “This is a little different.”

In an effort to find ways to address the shortfall, Olson said the district is considering busing fees.

“To my knowledge there's no one in the county charging for transportation right now,” he said of other districts.

However, he added, it's common practice for school districts in other areas.

The district's general fund currently contributes about $300,000 to transportation, he said. “That money could be used another way.”

While there's some reimbursement to the district from the state for transportation costs, it's not enough to cover everything, he said.

Then, there's the issue of rapidly rising gas prices, which Olson said has had a “tremendous” impact on the district's budget.

He had to adjust the district's transportation budget by $20,000 to finish out the year, he said.

The proposed budget for next year includes $222,000 for supplies and materials in its transportation budget, most of which is for fuel, said Olson. That amounts to a 50-percent increase over the 2007-08 budget year.

Fuel prices, said Comstock, have “hit everyone right up side of the head,” and the result is that those costs are eating up more of the district's budget.

“The encroachment into the general fund is becoming significant,” he said.

The district has some options, said Olson, and the board thought it was time to discuss them in order to spare cutting more personnel, materials and resources.

The board will consider the pros and cons of charging between $0.50 and $2 per day for bus service, said Olson. The lower rate would cost parents about $90 a year, the higher rate $360 a year.

“We have discussed for years the potential of having to charge a bus fee,” said Comstock.

Added Olson, “There are lots of question marks about how you do it,” which is why the board wants to discuss it with the community.

Instituting a charge for busing would help cover the rising costs of gas, said Olson; it also would help the district hire another bus driver, which it needs to do in order to maintain the bus runs it currently has.

Another option is to collapse or reduce the number of bus runs, said Olson. However, the district's bus drivers are reporting more ridership as more parents themselves grapple with fuel costs and take advantage of the bus services.

“That's the rub,” said Olson.

He added that the district can't do both options at once – collapsing runs while charging for services.

Comstock said several years ago the district instituted an athletic transportation fee, which helped it buy vans for transporting student athletes to games. There was no outcry over that measure, he added.

While the bus fees could help address more immediate concerns, the proposal to increase developer fees would be done with an eye to needed district upgrades and improvements, said Olson.

Developer fees, which were put in place many years ago, help address the impact on area schools that result from construction, he said. A fee is charged based on the square footage of a new home or commercial building.

Every other year, the state issues a new fee amount districts can seek, said Olson. In January the State Allocation Board adjusted the fees to $2.97 for residential development and $0.47 for commercial development.

Middletown Unified last adjusted its developer fees two years ago, he said, based on a developer fee justification study. The current rate is $2.63 for residential development and $0.42 for commercial development.

The developer fees, he explained, can only be used for school building and construction – not for any other purpose, like meeting budget shortfalls in other areas.

While current district enrollment “is very flat,” Olson said there are improvements the district needs to make for its student levels now.

The district's schools employ a lot of portable buildings, he said. “We're looking to improve our facilities and make them more up-to-date so we can eliminate some of the portables eventually.”

Accepting new fees will allow the district to keep up with inflation, said Olson.

“We haven't had much protest in the prior years when we've had this,” he said, adding that it's unlikely the district can do anything else but raise the fees.

However, he said the district is mindful that builders might not welcome the change, which is why they're being careful to notify the community to give everyone an opportunity to comment.

The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the Middletown Multi-Use building, on Wardlaw Street. The district office can be reached at 987-4100, or visit them online at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From right to left, Lake County Supervisor Rob Brown; Linda Gibson, Redbud Community Hospital vice president of operations; Cameron Reeves, hospital governing board member; JoAline Olson, St. Helena Hospital/Redbud Community Hospital President & CEO; and Dr. David Betat, Kelseyville Creek Clinic physician. Photo by Harold LaBonte.





KELSEYVILLE – On Friday Redbud Community Hospital held a ceremony to break ground on a new $1 million family health center that will replace the Kelsey Creek Clinic early next year.

Lake County Supervisor Rob Brown, Redbud Community Hospital Vice President of Operations Linda Gibson, Hospital Governing Board Member Cameron Reeves and St. Helena Hospital/Redbud Community Hospital President and Chief Executive Officer JoAline Olson and Kelseyville Creek Clinic physician Dr. David Betat donned hard hats and wielded shovels painted gold for the morning groundbreaking ceremony.

The Kelseyville Family Health Center will be located at 5290 State St., about two blocks north of the existing Kelsey Creek Clinic on Church Street, according to hospital spokesman Jeff Davis.

The Kelsey Creek Clinic has been housed in an outdated 1,800-square-feet building since the early 1990s.

The center will offer family medicine, podiatry, diabetic education and behavioral health services in a 2,900-square-foot building with seven patient exams rooms, a new patient education and consultation room, and easier street access with additional parking spaces.

Linda Gibson, Redbud’s senior vice president of operations, said in a written statement that the clinic “is a visible symbol of Redbud Community Hospital’s commitment and investment to make sure Lake County residents have access to superior medical care.”

Kelseyville is one of three community clinics Redbud operates in the county, with approximately 7,200 patients annually, according to Davis.

Clinics also are located in Clearlake and Middletown and Kelseyville. Davis said the three clinics combined had 76,000 patient visits in 2008.

The hospital also has a dental clinic that is located within the Redbud Family Health Center in Clearlake, Davis reported. Additionally, Redbud and St. Helena Hospital jointly operate the Hidden Valley Medical Services clinic, which opened in October 2007.


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.

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


CLEARLAKE – A teenage girl facing charges for the fatal stabbing of another girl entered a not guilty plea on Friday.

Gabrielle Rachel Varney, 18, appeared in Lake County Superior Court, according to her attorney, Stephen Carter.

“We entered her plea as not guilty,” Carter said.

Varney is charged with murder and a special allegation of using a deadly weapon – in this case a knife – in the death of 17-year-old Heather Valdez of Clearlake.

Valdez died June 5 after Varney allegedly stabbed her during a confrontation that happened when the teens got off the school bus near their homes, as Lake County News has reported. Both girls were juniors at Carlé Continuation High School.

The incident between the teenagers allegedly was the culmination of a months-long feud, Lt. Mike Hermann of Clearlake Police told Lake County News in a previous interview.

Hermann said Varney told police she hadn't intended to stab Valdez. Rather, she told police Valdez had started hitting her.

Varney allegedly had a folding pocket knife with a 4-inch blade that she had been carrying in her hand before the fight started, and which police later recovered at the home of a neighbor where she went to call for help.

An autopsy ruled that Valdez's death resulted from a stab wound to the neck, with the wound appearing consistent with the knife, Hermann said.

Carter said Varney will return to court July 18, at which time the date of her preliminary hearing will be set.

Varney remains in Lake County Jail, with bail set at $500,000, according to jail records.

For Carter, who began representing Varney a week and a half ago and is beginning his own in-depth study of the case, it's too early to know how long the case might take to get to trial.

If Varney is convicted, she'll face 25 years to life for the murder charge, said Carter, plus one year for the special allegation of using a deadly weapon.

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


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