Firefighters break 50 percent containment on Mendocino Complex

The Mendocino Complex continues to burn through a record-breaking amount of acreage across California, but it appears firefighters have made considerable progress on getting the flames under control Thursday.

Early Wednesday morning, the two blazes making up the Mendocino Complex surpassed the 300,000 mark in total acres burned. But as of Thursday morning, Cal Fire reports they have the complex 51 percent contained.

On Monday, the combined devastation of the Ranch and River Fires made the Mendocino Complex the largest wildfire in California History. It overtook the Thomas Fire that burned nearly 282,000 acres across the Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties by the time it was done in March. But firefighters are optimistic one of those deadly wildfires could be out soon.

"We're just about wrapped up on the River Fire," Cal Fire Operations Chief Charlie Blankenheim said. "All evacuations have been lifted on the River Fire. Last little bits and pieces of lines are being mopped up today, and we're looking at close to 100 percent control on the perimeter of the River Fire."

The River Fire has burned about 49,000 acres by itself, but its much larger counterpart to the north, the Ranch Fire, is nearly five times the size and continuing to give firefighters fits as it tears through the southern portion of the Mendocino National Forest. That fire has scorched more than 255,000 acres and caused evacuations in three different counties.

"We're feeling really good about a lot, but still a ton of work to do in the forest," Blankenheim said. "A lot of lines to build and a lot of operation going on in the forest."

Nonetheless, firefighters have executed successful operations to mitigate the spread of the flames.

"Up on Mid Mountain Road, we did a firing operation last night coming out to Irish Flats. Everything went really good on that," Blankenheim said. "The plan is we're going to continue to support the forest service as they build line and burn line down to the Eel River, and then hold the Eel River moving in with the forest service."

Cal Fire says Elk Mountain and Bartlett Springs Roads, among others, will remain closed for some time, but their efforts have allowed others to reopen.

"Everything looks really good around Highway 20. Yesterday, we had a major success for us. We opened up Highway 20," Blankenheim said. "We re-populated all the communities of Clearlake Oaks, Glenhaven, Nice, Lucerne, and Upper Lake. All of those communities are re-populated. Re-population went really good yesterday."

Meanwhile, on the forest's eastern edge, old work done to extinguish fires from years past are proving helpful in stopping Thursday's flames.

"We're opening up old dozer lines in the Mill Fire from about eight years ago with the intent of bringing this fire into the Mill Fire and holding it there," Forest Fire Management Officer Scott Lucas said.

As of 7 a.m. Thursday morning, the Mendocino Complex has scorched 304,402 acres, injured two firefighters, destroyed 119 homes and damaged 12. Over 9,000 structures remained threatened by the blaze.

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