The Mendocino Complex fires currently ripping through Northern California have officially become so massive that they’ve earned the title of the largest wildfire in California history.
Between the Ranch and River fires, together dubbed the Mendocino Complex, over 292,000 acres have been scorched. Currently, the fire is only 34 percent contained and one firefighter has been injured battling the blaze. Despite the record-breaking size of the fire, thankfully there have been no fatalities. Further north, seven people have perished in the Carr Fire impacting Shasta and Trinity counties and the city of Redding.
Currently, a force of 3,900 firefighters backed by 441 fire engines and 85 bulldozers are attempting to preserve the 11,300 structures still at risk from the Mendocino Complex. Firefighters reported last week that they hoped to have the two fires contained by Aug. 6, but the combination of high temperatures and high winds have kept the blaze raging.
Many of the families impacted by the fire are involved in the cannabis industry, which is a legacy industry in the land around Mendocino County, and many of the families have been hit hard by fires in the past year.
Mischa Steiner was raised in Potter Valley, one of the areas burned in the Ranch Fire, and shared the experience of helping his parents prepare for the worst at his childhood home — twice in the last year. The Ranch Fire began a week ago at the base of their road. While winds have blown the fire east away from their property, it’s still only about a mile and a half to the fire line. On Tuesday afternoon, Steiner said the family was ordered to evacuate again for the second time in a week and the third time in the past 12 months.
“The major thing that comes from dealing with fires for the second time in a year is the second time you kind of already dealt with the possibility of whether you’re going to lose your childhood home,” Steiner told Cannabis Now. “The second time it’s not the shock it is the first time.”
Over the week, the two fires have destroyed 75 houses and 68 other structures. We asked Steiner if it was safe to presume a lot of those other structures were farm infrastructure before they were destroyed.
“Yeah I think that’s correct,” said Steiner. “Some of those things are barns, some of those things are greenhouses. Even drying rooms.”
A majority of the land burning in the Mendocino Complex is forested land, which means it’s difficult for firefighters to access the blaze on the ground and have to rely on air support.
“There ain’t really anybody living in there, so there is no, ‘Oh God, we need to stop it here because there is a house there,’” said Steiner.
Chae Carter is one of the people who lost home his home in the Ranch Fire.
Carter told Cannabis Now that when the fire first began, his family watched the fire from the top of a mountain near their home near a small town called Upper Lake, in Lake County. Carter said the distance of the flames at the time didn’t seem threatening that night — at least a day away — and so he and his fiancé drove two hours from home to the coast for a wedding early Saturday.
“We had no info, so we just went on with business as usual and headed to the coast,” said Carter. “By the time I got there, I got a phone call from my parents saying we just got an evacuation notice. They say there are no resources to fight the fire, and there is nothing stopping it from coming right to us. They thought we had about four hours.”
Carter was stuck on the coast, so his parents moved equipment on the property and then evacuated to Ukiah. Then, the next day, he got word his house had survived. He immediately traveled back from the coast and found a way into Upper Lake. He checked on friends and then headed home up a back road to grab what he could.
“I got about 20 minutes at my house to grab a couple things for my baby, my wife, myself,” said Carter. “You don’t really know what to grab in the moment.”
Carter, his father, brother-in-law and a friend exited the property. The last thing they did was put out a spot fire out near the family sawmill. The four knew things were about to get dangerous and jumped in their trucks. They decided to skip the 60-mile backup of traffic on the main road and returned to a friend’s property nearby, but out of the fire’s path. That night, they watched their neighborhood mountain go up in flames.
You can support the Carters’ effort to rebuild here.
Also in Upper Lake, the Coleman family lost a property they’d had for 34 years. The family patriarch had hitchhiked north to the area with a pocket full of seeds in 1977. He began to build the property in 1984, and this week, his family lost three houses in the fire. Supporters have raised over $5000 for the family on GoFundMe.
Longtime educator Dr. Amanda Reiman noted to Cannabis Now many students at Mendocino College have been impacted by the fires. Those who wish to support them can donate here.
TELL US, have you been impacted by the Mendocino Complex fires?