Marcio Jose Sanchez and Sudhin Thanawala, Associated Press
Updated 8:31 p.m.
(AP) — A third wildfire has erupted in Mendocino County and prompted evacuations even as hard-pressed firefighters struggle to contain blazes that have burned nearly a dozen homes.
Fire and sheriff's officials say a blaze dubbed the Eel Fire erupted Tuesday afternoon near the rural community of Covelo in Mendocino County and quickly grew to 865 acres.
There aren't any immediate reports of houses burned but official have ordered evacuations for about 60 homes on Mendocino Pass Road, an old ranching and farming area on the edge of a national forest.
The fire is about 40 miles north of where twin wildfires threatened some 10,000 homes Tuesday in Lake and Mendocino counties — yet another front in the battle against the flames that have ravaged some of the state's most scenic areas.
The two fires, known collectively as the Mendocino Complex, have burned seven homes along 80,408 acres of rural land. Fire crews were able to slow the spread of one of the blazes into populated areas and instead the fire pushed into the Mendocino National Forest.
"Just because you see a big column (of smoke) standing up every day does not mean we're not having some success in the fire line," Cal Fire Battalion Chief John Messina told a community meeting in Lake County.
He urged people to stay vigilant because fires can easily jump over containment lines.
Incident commander Bret Gouvea said he was cautiously optimistic about the progress, the Record-Searchlight newspaper of Redding reported. Collectively the fires are 12 percent contained.
"We're turning the corner," he said, adding that he hates "saying those things (because) this thing has made me a liar so many times."
In Lake County, evacuation orders were in effect for the 4,700-resident town of Lakeport along with some smaller communities and a section of the national forest. In all, some 15,000 people have been warned to flee, fire officials said.
Lakeport, north of San Francisco, is the county seat and a popular destination for bass anglers and boaters on the shores of Clear Lake. But by Monday night it was a ghost town, the main streets deserted.
A few miles away embers, ash and smoke swirled through vineyards where at least one home had gone up in flames. Firefighters set blazes at the bottom of hills in order to burn up the tinder-dry brush before flames cresting the ridge tops could feed on it and surge downhill. A fleet of aircraft made continuous water and fire retardant drops, filling the air with the roar of their engines.
But not everyone heeded the orders to evacuate.
Derick Hughes II remained behind at his property in Nice, California, where he ran sprinklers on his roof and removed yard plants that could catch fire.
The 32-year-old Marine Corps veteran sent his wife and two daughters to safety along with three carloads of belongings. But he said he had too much at stake to leave himself. He bought his three-bedroom house last year using a loan from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"This is everything I bled for, and I've worked really hard to get to where I am, and I'm just not willing to give it up so easily," he said over the phone. "Some people may think that's selfish of me, and I have insurance. But the way things go, I'd rather not start over."
The Mendocino Complex fires were among 17 burning across the state, where fire crews were stretched to the limit.
Firefighters from 10 other states are helping to battle the blazes, with six more states expected to send firefighting resources to California this week.
In Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, an arson fire that destroyed seven homes last week was 82 percent contained Monday.
Fire crews also have battled numerous small brushfires this summer, most charring only a few acres but still threatening homes in built-up areas along parched foothills. A 10-acre fire damaged 13 homes and apartments Monday in Santa Clarita, northwest of Los Angeles, county fire officials said.
McLean, the state fire spokesman, said there was no guarantee of safety in a state that has been ravaged by years of drought that has turned trees and brush to tinder.
"Anything could happen anywhere. That's the nature of the beast for all of these fires," he said. "The vegetation is so dry all it takes is a spark to get it going."
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