By Peter Fimrite and Michael Cabanatuan
The relentless wall of flame north of Clear Lake known as the Mendocino Complex grew into the largest fire in California history, outpacing 15 other conflagrations that blanketed the skies with smoke, state fire officials said Monday.
The monstrous Ranch and River fires, which started northeast of Ukiah and near Hopland, combined into a single incident called a complex. The Mendocino Complex scorched 283,800 acres in Mendocino, Lake and Colusa counties as of Monday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.
It is part of an unprecedented series of large, deadly and destructive fires that have raged through California in 2017 and 2018, exposing astonished firefighting crews to things rarely if ever seen before, including pyro-cumulus clouds reaching into the stratosphere and powerful fire tornadoes.
The good news Monday was that the Mendocino Complex, which started July 27 and was 30 percent contained, moved north through largely uninhabited areas toward Glenn County, according to Cal Fire.
That was little comfort to firefighters considering that the volatile blaze blew up in the past, gobbling up 55,000 acres on Saturday alone. It wrested the ignominious title of largest fire in California from the Thomas Fire, which burned more than 281,000 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties last year.
"That's indicative of how explosive the fire conditions are right now," said Jonathan Cox, the Northern California battalion chief for Cal Fire. "You are talking about hundreds of miles of open fire line in the remote, steep inaccessible areas, which are the most difficult to grab containment in."
More than 14,000 firefighters were battling flames across the state on Monday. Four of the 10 most destructive fires and five of the 20 deadliest fires in recorded state history have occurred in 2017 and 2018.
Cox said the state has experienced higher temperatures day and night, and less rain and snow, which, in turn, has resulted in dried vegetation.
"Over half of the most deadly and destructive and large fires in California have occurred over the past 10 years," Cox said. " We're looking at long-term trends that are alarming for us, especially how quickly they are burning and how much damage they are causing and how deadly they are. It would not be an overstatement to say this is unprecedented."
The other major fires burning Monday in California were:
--The Carr Fire, near Redding, consumed 164,413 acres and was 47 percent contained as of Monday. It was burning northward through steep, mountainous terrain with heavy timber along the Shasta-Trinity county line. The fire, which started July 23, has killed six people and a seventh person, a PG&E lineman, died in a crash while restoring power to the area. More than 1,000 residences have burned. It is the sixth most destructive, 13th most deadly and 12th largest fire in California history.
--The Ferguson Fire burned 94,331 acres and was 39 percent contained as of Monday. It forced the evacuation of Yosemite National Park, where smoke was still blotting out the sun. Park officials indefinitely extended closures of Yosemite Valley, Wawona, and the Mariposa and Merced redwood groves. The park's three western entrances -- highways 120, 140 and 41 were closed. However, the vast northern part of the park, including Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Pass, was open.
--The Donnell Fire along the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River burned 11,074 acres and was just 2 percent contained as of Monday. The fire, which shut down Highway 108 at Sonora Pass, destroyed much of the Dardanelle Resort. The owners of the historical store, restaurant and cabins announced on Facebook that they had suffered "massive structural damage."
--The Eel Fire, 10 miles east of Covelo, in Mendocino County, was 60 percent contained with 972 acres burned on Monday. U.S. Forest Service fire managers lifted all evacuation advisories in the region Monday.
Meanwhile, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District extended an air quality advisory through Thursday as a result of smoke from the Mendocino Complex fire and other wildfires. The district said Spare the Air alerts could be called midweek if air quality exceeds federal standards.
Staff writer Kurtis Alexander contributed to this story.
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