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Winds Whip Up Wall Of Flames Destroying More Homes In Mendocino Complex Fire

KELSEYVILLE (KPIX 5) -- Afternoon winds whipped up a wall of flames destroying more structures in Lakeport.

"We had really erratic fire behavior, spot fires, fires pushing over ridges, down into canyons," said Cal Fire spokesman Paul Lowenthal.

Firefighters tried to save as many homes as they could as a 30-foot wall of flames barreled down the hillside.

Resident OB Lowrie stayed behind, refusing to obey evacuation orders and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with crews.

"It's my house, I'd do everything I can to save it," he said.

Thankfully, firefighters were able to save it, but for the first time since Sunday some homes and structures were lost. Exactly how many won't be clear until sunup.

Lowrie was not alone. While thousands of residents have been been evacuated from the area of Clear Lake due to the Mendocino Complex fire, many locals, like Lowrie decided to stay to protect their homes.

Thousands of homes remain threatened by the Mendocino Complex fire Tuesday evening as the two blazes grew to cover a combined 75,000 acres.

As of Tuesday night, fire officials said the River Fire had grown to 28,869 acres and is 12 percent contained fires while the larger Ranch Fire was 51,539 acres and 10 percent contained. They also said that they have confirmed 10 structures were destroyed, though that number is likely to go up.

The two fires burning north and west of Clear Lake have torn through a total of 116 square miles.

A third fire, called the Eel River Fire, started Tuesday afternoon and already forced the evacuation of Covelo in Mendocino County. The fire was 200 acres as of early Tuesday evening, but firefighters said it could quickly grow to 1,000 acres in size.

While Kelseyville residents were told to evacuate the area Monday, a stubborn few tell KPIX 5 they're not leaving, no matter what happens.

"This is a makeshift evacuation center. There's so much of the county that's been evacuated, there's not really any place to go," said Kelseyville resident Dan Kane.

Five families have all gathered at Kane's family ranch with their campers and dogs.

"We choose to stay and protect our land. It's what we have. It's how we make our living out here," said Kane.

Kelseyville resident Dan Kane
Kelseyville resident Dan Kane, who refuses to evacuate ranch (CBS)

The 75-acre walnut farm is not far from Kelseyville. Tuesday night, the River Fire was less than a mile away.

"This is ours and it's worth defending, and we'll go down with it if we have to," Kane said.

The families here know they shouldn't be here, but they've decided to stay.

"Women's work is men's work out here on this ranch. No matter what we're doing out here, we're doing it together," said Pamela Kane.

That means cutting back oleander bushes up against the barn and raking up dead leaves and grass.

"We've still got a lot to do, but it's what we've got so far," said Mati, a young girl staying at the ranch with her family.

The 10-year-old said she's happy to help because it takes her mind of her house.

"I do feel scared because I got evacuated from my house in Lakeport," explained Mati. "But I still have the nervous, scared bugs in me. But out here, it's just…I don't have them."

Dan Kane says he's ready to fight the fire if it comes this way.

He's got a 4,000 gallon water tender, a water pump hooked up to the swimming pool and hoses running from the two wells.

He also has experience with this. He's a Lakeport firefighter and just came off the fire lines.

"This is my 24 [hours] off for R&R, so there's no better way I can use my R&R than to protect my own ranch," said Kane.

But firefighters with Cal Fire say it's not only dangerous for the family, but also for crews trying to work in the area.

"It could get to the point where those that chose not to leave then need help leaving. And we may not be able to get to them," said Cal Fire spokesperson Paul Lowenthal.

Cal Fire says flames are still threatening more than 12,000 homes and other buildings.

Evacuees remain nervous and hopeful as they wait out the fires.

"We've been evacuated from Upper Lake for three days now and are just looking for information," said evacuee Beau Robertson,

Mendo-Lake Home Respiratory Driver Samuel Santerno is risking his own safety to come into Lakeport to pick up needed medical supplies he will then deliver to patients who've been forced to evacuate.

"We're spread really thin right now. We're doing everything we can to assist the hospitals and getting people oxygen tanks and what they need," said Santerno.

But getting to the shelters in Lower Lake and Middletown isn't easy because of all the road closures.

"It's really hard. It's really tough with all the evacuations and everything going on right now," said Santerno.

A tough situation for the patients, and a painful reminder for Santerno.

"My wife and I lost our home in the Clayton fire a few years back, so I definitely understand the franticness," Santerno explained.

Lake County has seen its share of big wildfires over the past few years, which is why he's more committed than ever to making sure patients get the help they need.

"We're just really trying to buckle down and figure things out," said Santerno.

Late Tuesday morning, officials held a community meeting where the Lake County board declared a state of emergency.

Officials didn't have many answers, but tried to reassure the overflow crowd they're doing their best.

"We are now facing limited resources to suppress this incident," one official said.

Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin got choked up as he spoke.

"For those of you that lost homes, I'm sorry. Friends of mine…thanks," Sheriff Martin said, unable to finish.

Some of the 19,000 people evacuated by the fires questioned if their homes were still standing, but Cal Fire officials said conditions were still too dangerous to fully assess the damage.

"Its unsafe for us to get inspectors in," said Cal Fire Deputy Incident Commander Ron Myers. "There are power lines down, there are trees down."

Authorities did say they have found and stopped suspected looters.

"We've arrested some people who had rubber gloves in their pockets and have had bolt cutters," said Sheriff Martin.

The fires have been burning through mostly rural territory, away from populated areas like the town of Lakeport.

Cal Fire officials said it was still too early to have a timeline as too when residents would be able to return to their homes.

"We're going to let them get in as soon as possible. As soon as its safe and we're sure the fire will not affect the repopulation," said Cal Fire Chief John Messina.

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