MENDOCINO COUNTY (KPIX 5) — The fast-moving Redwood Complex wildfire in Mendocino County is forcing mandatory evacuations, having already killed at least three people as of Tuesday.
The fire has consumed 21,000 acres and destroyed 40 structures.
The disaster isn’t garnering as much attention as the Sonoma and Napa County fires have because remote Mendocino is now completely off the grid.
Cell service is out in much of the area, leaving people feeling cut off.
“A lot of people are cut off from what’s going on. They’re scared. It’s not good,” said Willits resident Carrie Hoefer.
The fire consumed the Laughlin repeater, the town’s main channel for communication. It caught fire not just once, but twice.
“Approximately one hour after it was fixed, the fire came back and took out the repair,” said Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman.
People were left without the ability to call local numbers from landlines or even dial 911. Desperate for information, they packed into the community library to listen and demand some answers from authorities.
The library is also the only location in the area with wifi.
“Right now, we’re pretty much cut from communications,” said Greg Fedeoroff of Willits.
Fedeoroff’s family had to their home in Redwood Valley, that’s the hardest hit area by this massive fire that is still zero percent contained.
“The flames were cresting on the ridge. They could see the flames. They evacuated Pine Mountain which is where a lot of people in Willits live,” said Fedeoroff.
ATMs aren’t working, gas is running low, water in stores is scarce and people here are growing anxious.
“Very confusing. Apocalyptic like,” said Fedeoroff.
If evacuation orders are put in place that news has to be delivered on foot and residents worry they could end up trapped.
“They said if we’re going to evacuate they’re going to have bull horns, walk down the street and bang on the doors at the same time, because how else are you going to communicate with people?” said Hoefer.
Anxiety is high and resources are running low. Worst of all, as isolated and in need as this community feels, they know other cities have lost more.
However, when asked if she felt safe, Hoefer replied, “At the moment, no.”