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Willits, Mendocino County--

Fire season is over, according to the National Daily Fire Situation Report. A month ago that report gave daily fire statistics for various regions of the United States. Now it gives only a weekly summary. But fire season is over, as any firefighter knows, when the fires stop.

In Northern California the number of fires has dropped off, but they are still happening and they still have the potential to be a serious threat, both to wildlife and structures.

Consider 12:04 PM on Tuesday. Eight miles north-west of Willits on a dirt road named "Third Gate"--east of a paved road called Sherwood road--a fire got started in brush and scrub oaks. The cause is still under investigation.

It was a bright, sunny day. Not hot like summer, but warm and dry enough that a fire, out of control, could cause great destruction. In this area, where there is about 1 house per each 20-acre parcel, access is not easy, said Captain Gary Kavanagh, the dispatcher who was on duty at the Howard Forest Command Center in Mendocino County. And don't expect to find Third Gate on the map. In rural areas, firefighters often have to go on instructions like, "take the second fork on the left, then down the hill past the green trailer. . ."

Although crews and strike teams have been reduced from the peak of the summer fire season, considerable resources were brought in for the fire near Willits: 1 helicopter form Vina Helitack base near Red Bluff, 3 California Department of Forestry (CDF) fire engines, 3 fire engines from nearby Brooktrails Fire Department, 2 fire engines from the Little Lake Fire District, 1 (CDF) bulldozer, and 3 CDF fire hand crews, each consisting of a supervisor and 17 firefighters.

According the Kavanagh, the fire was contained by 1:30 PM and no structures were lost. But 11 acres burned. The Brooktrails and Little Lake engines had been released by 1:30, as had the helicopter from Vina Helitack. Only "mop-up" crews remained at the scene.

"Crews are reduced pretty far" by this time of year, said Kavanagh. But he said it is still fire season in Mendocino county until the rains come. So far this fall there have been a few light rains, but vegetation is still quite dry in inland places like Willits. On the coast, due to cooler temperatures and moisture from the fog, the situation is somewhat better.



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