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Mendocino County Today: October 3, 2012

THE FLYNN FIRE: As the temperature rose to better than a hundred degrees in the Anderson Valley and Comptche Monday after­noon, a fire broke out at 2:20pm near the Comptche Fire House and moved rapidly east driven by the summer winds that arise every afternoon in the Coast areas of Mendocino County. CalFire soon announced that the fire was indeed “expanding rapidly” and an air quality advisory had been issued for Ukiah. From Boonville, residents could see smoke of fog bank-like density reaching east from Comptche to the Ukiah Valley as the fire burned in an easterly direction to the south of the Ukiah-Comptche Road and to the east of Flynn Creek Road. There were two air tankers — then four — then six — dropping flame retardant on the face of the fire as it roared through the mostly uninhabited back country lying between Comptche and Ukiah. Two water-bearing helicopters were also dipping into Comptche-area ponds for repeated baskets of water to air drop on the flames. A large number of CalFire trucks roared through Boonville as a scratchy voice on our scanner urged, “Bring all the gear you can.”

Volunteer departments from many surrounding communities were quickly on-scene, and soon reinforced by CalFire ground crews. A number of private water tank trucks had also been enlisted in the struggle to contain the fast-moving blaze. At least one home and several outbuildings had been confirmed lost by Monday sunset. The Flynn Fire, as CalFire had dubbed the blaze, had consumed more than 200 acres by 5:30 and was described as “5% contained.”

CalFire said these agencies were fighting the fire Monday afternoon: “Comptche, Anderson Valley, Mendocino and Albion Fire Departments, Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, California Dept. of Corrections & Rehabilitation & Ukiah Ambulance on stand by.”

The following are contemporaneous reports from several Comptche residents, all of them written from late Monday afternoon through late Monday night.

Comptche resident Cindy Hollister reported late Monday afternoon: “Friends & Neighbors, Comptche lost a house behind the firehouse on Flynn Creek Road. A family got out with the clothes on their backs. If you have clothes that will fit a 2 year old girl, 9 year old girl, 11 year old boy-Adult Medium, 13 year old boy-Adult Large sizes, and two adults needing XL sizes (Rosie & Forest), 2 adults needing L sizes (Jared & Kelsey). Toothbrushes are from Comptche Store. Blankets are needed. Drop items off at Christine Clark/Jeremiah Heim’s 937-2327. — Cindy CAFA Member.”

AVA readers tell us that the home destroyed was a caretaker’s house. No one was hurt, but the occupants, a family with children, lost everything. “The fire started in the vicinity of the firehouse, with the wind moving it east. At this point, it remains on the south side of Comptche-Ukiah Road. A number of structures were saved. Over 200 acres have been burnt within 50 feet of our dwellings. No idea what our upper fields and timberlands look like. Two dwellings on other property went up in flames. CDF crews camped in my front yard. Car loaded with photo albums and computer but I refused to evacuate when asked and kept watering down my dwellings — on crutches. CDF will be here all night.”

Another reader reported: “The fire started on land east of Flynn Creek Road and burned up a 100-year old farmstead and the family that lived there barely escaped with the clothes on their back. And it was home to miniature animals, and who knows what happened to them. The fire then spread east to Philbrick Mill Road which is where a logging operation had left behind piles of slash and large stands of now dead hack and squirted oak trees.”

CalFire’s latest fire report as of Monday night at 6pm, said that “five buildings had been destroyed and 70 more are threatened. 33 fire engines, 14 fire crews, 5 bulldozers, 6 air tankers, 2 helicopters and 444 personnel are already on scene. The fire is burning to the east into commercial timber property. Fire behavior is moderate to extreme with long range spotting.”

Which is language similar to that CalFire applied to the “Pass Fire” in Covelo last month which destroyed thousands of acres of timber before it was contained after weeks of firefighting.

Monday morning, the Boonville Fairgrounds parking lot was full of CalFire trucks.

The first report we had from Comptche was this one at 8am: “Lots of smoke, 48 degrees and we are above the dew point. Unfamiliar looking water trucks are going back and forth on the road. At this time, the focus remains east of Comptche where no structures are threatened. I am assuming everything is being done to contain the fire before temperatures rise and the wind starts to blow. No planes or helicopters can be heard, yet.”

And From Katy Tahja at 9am on Tuesday morning: “200 acres… destroyed six dwellings from old home­stead to new ones...one family left with clothes on their back...fire camp in our yard overnight… Must be 50 engines and dozers at the Comptche Volunteer Fire Department… there were 6 borate bombers working it at once… it's being contained…”

Tuesday morning, with temperatures expected to again reach 100°, CalFire announced that the Flynn Fire was 25% contained. Smoke had drifted east Monday but by Tuesday morning was slowing moving west towards the Mendocino Coast.

Three Anderson Valley trucks were among the volun­teers specifically assigned to post themselves in the path of flames advancing, or likely to advance, toward homes. They can be directly credited with saving those homes.

As always, Comptche's modest fire chief, Larry Tunzi, calmly took competent charge of the initial push-back on the blaze. In any kind of emergency, he's the guy you want.

As of 3pm Tuesday afternoon, but without final CalFire confirmation, the Flynn Fire seemed to be well in hand.

George Hollister of Comptche summed up: “From my view, pretty good. There continues to be a lot of activity with water trucks busy on the road going in different direc­tions, and going many places. The fire crews came in early this morning, and the only CalFire units on the road are on water runs. But the sky is clear. No smoke plumes any­where. The airplane and helicopter support appears to be mostly for observation. Temperature is 102 with just enough wind to clear the air. So right now, wind does not seem to be a factor. Humidity remains low.”

“I might add, everyone’s keeping their fingers crossed,” Hollister said.

TWO DOWN, ONE TO GO: Dogged police work by Lt. Greg Van Patten of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Department has resulted in the extradition from Mexico of Julio Rangel-Ceja, 22, wanted for the rape and assault of a 14-year-old Navarro girl in July of 2008.

Julio Ceja-Rangel

Van Patten has pursued Rangel for four years. When Rengal was finally arrested in Mexico, Van Patten negotiated Rangel's return to the United States with the Mexi­can government.

The girl was brutally raped and severely beaten on the night of 25th July, 2008 by two Philo men she subse­quently identified as Rengal and Jose Lopez-Garibay, then 29.

Garibay remains at large.

A group of young people, including the victim, had gathered on the grounds of the Anderson Valley Health Center to drink and smoke marijuana. This event, chastely referred to at the time as a “social gathering,” was attended by a number of local criminals, some of them with gang affiliations.

Late in the evening, Rengal invited the victim to drive with him and Garibay, in Garibay's pick-up truck, to another party, which turned out not to exist. They left Boonville with the girl intending to attack her.

The girl said she willingly entered the vehicle because she knew Rengal and trusted him.

The two men drove their victim to lower Greenwood Road near Hendy Woods where they took turns raping the girl. She was also beaten by them before they drove back towards Boonville, then up the Peachland Road, where she was again raped and beaten.

In fear for her life during her Peachland ordeal, the girl fought Garibay. She was able to kick out a side window of his truck, stab him with a broken beer bottle, then run barefoot for her life down Peachland Road to Highway 128 where she flagged down a passing motorist who drove her to her home near Navarro.

From Navarro, the 14-year-old was transported to the Ukiah Valley Medical Center where she was treated and released to the custody of her parents.

A person close to the family of the victim described the girl's feet as “just raw. And they worked the rest of her over pretty good, too. She's probably lucky to be alive.”

Garibay's truck was found the next day on the Vista Ranch near Boonville. His blood-soaked singlet lay in the bed of the truck.

The 14-year-old victim was believed to be romantically involved with Rengal, a young man with a history of assaults as a juvenile, including one where he was shot in the leg during a Ukiah gang melee.

Rengal also led a group attack a year earlier on a young employee of the now-defunct HiPockety Ox in Boonville, and he was involved in several robberies of students at Anderson Valley High School where he was enrolled before dropping out after his sophomore year.

Two Anderson Valley High School students, found with a gun on campus, said they'd brought the weapon onto the school grounds to defend themselves against Rengal who, with a small group of other delinquents, often loitered near the high school harassing local young people and sometimes robbing them.

During the summer months, Rengal was believed to have been employed tending marijuana gardens for Mexican drug syndicates with ties to the Anderson Valley.

Rengal lived with his mother near Lemons’ Market in Philo. Edgar Rengal, Julio Rengal's older brother, was deported several years ago following his conviction for the rape of a 12-year-old girl. Edgar, adjudicated in Mendocino County as a mentally disordered sex offender, is believed to be in prison in Mexico.

Jose Lopez-Garibay, a married man, had been employed by Kendall-Jackson as a vineyard worker. He also tended marijuana gardens. Garibay is regarded by the Anderson Valley's Mexican community as a thug and, in the words of a relative, “loco.”

The Garibays lived with their then seven-year-old son on a Philo property owned by John Scharffenberger. Garibay's wife was suffering from cancer at the time of her husband's crime.

Garibay had ignited a soccer brawl at Tom Smith Field near the High School a year earlier as well, when he suddenly struck the father of two players on a rival team. People who know him have warned the police that Garibay is probably armed and likely to shoot or stab anyone who tries to arrest him.

After their assault on the local girl, the two men fled south for Mexico. There were initial reports that they were hiding in marijuana gardens deep in the west hills of Anderson Valley. But law enforcement, after an intense search for them, concluded that the two rapists had fled the country.

There was much anger in both the Mexican and Anglo communities of Anderson Valley, especially at Rangel. Garibay was not as infamous, but Rangel was universally viewed as a roving menace who should have been deported years ago.

A number of Mexican men had been heard threaten­ing to kill both Rengal and Garibay and, for short time, there were rumors that the two outlaws had indeed been murdered and buried deep in the hills.

Their victim, now 18, managed to recover from her ordeal and went on to graduate from Anderson Valley High School.

SAN FRANCISCO is undergoing its annual coyote scare. About a year ago, a woman's illegally off-leash dogs encountered a coyote near the buffalo pens and the coyotes ever since have gotten the blame for missing pets. The Grunge People's pitbulls are the biggest hazard to Frisco park life, including two-footed life, but that's another story. In living coyote fact, there seems to be about a dozen of the crafty little critters in the city, two of which I've seen myself on early morning walks through the very west end of the Presidio. The Presidio coyotes aren't about to jog up to you for a biscuit, but they don't take off at the approach of a human either. They fully co-exist. One morning a sleek 70 pounder (I estimated) trotted across a street right in front of me, then sat on a dune staring at me staring at him, the second time that's happened to me with a coyote, the first time being in Boonville when I got into a lengthy stare down with a coyote sitting nonchalantly at the other end of a big drain pipe. I love the humor in these animals. They will definitely mess with you in that uncanny way of theirs. You hear coyotes night-yowling in Mendocino County more than you see them, and when you do see them in their rural habitat, it's clear from their scraggy appearances they're working for a living. City coyotes are fed by animal lovers, and they are also assumed to help themselves to unattended cats and dogs, although I'd need some proof of that before I'd blame the coyotes. Stop me if you've heard this old coyote joke: Conservationsts committed to humane management of coyotes got together with sheep ranchers to discuss the problem sheep ranchers had with coyotes preying on sheep. A conservationist asked, “Cant you catch the coyotes, neuter them and let them go?” A rancher stood up and replied, “Lady, the coyotes are eating the sheep, they ain't screwin' them!”

JOHN McKELLER lives up on Greenwood Road. It was the sunny Sunday morning of May 6th, and McKeller was setting out for his regular yoga session in Ukiah. A friend had mentioned that Fish and Game had set up an abalone stop, a checkpoint at the Boonville Fairgrounds. McKeller is a youngish man who drives a sporty black Dodge Durango with tinted windows. He knew his vehicle was a kind rolling invitation for law enforcement to pull it over for a look. Assuming he'd be checked for purloined abalone, McKeller rolled all his windows down for easy viewing and proceeded within the posted speed limits through Philo. “I never speed through the Valley,” he said. “I live here, too, and I know it's dangerous.” As McKeller rolled through Philo and picked up speed to the Indian Creek Bridge, a CHP cruiser, the white, lightly marked one, “whipped around and pulled me over at the driveway to KZYX,” McKeller says. “As the officer walked up to my window I released my seatbelt. The cop said I was driving without a seatbelt. How could he even see my seatbelt driving the other direction at that redwood grove at the bridge? It's the darkest stretch of road this side of Navarro. And besides I was wearing my seat belt. Officer Babcock, something of a legend on the South Coast for eagle-eyed seat belt violations real and imagined, proceeded to write McKeller a seatbelt ticket. An incredulous McKeller soon visited the CHP office in Ukiah. He asked if he could look at the video tape of his alleged seatbelt violation, and was surprised that the duty officer immediately produced it. “There it was right on tape,” McKeller says. “It shows everything — the officer doing a u-turn to catch up with me and me unhooking my seat belt as he walks up to my window.” McKeller's next stop was Judge Nadel's courtroom. “You have it on tape?” the judge laughed. “Yes, I do your honor,” McKeller said, “and here it is.” At the end of the viewing, the judge said, “I'm putting this over until Tuesday the 9th of October at 11am. “I'm going to bring the officer in and make him explain this one,” she said.

HANK SIMS of the essential Lost Coast Outpost writes: “Sad news from Scotia this week: Greenleaf Power, the Sacramento energy company that ended up with the Scotia biomass plant in the wake of the Maxxam bankruptcy, has announced that it will be powering down and laying off employees effective Nov. 1.

Frank Bacik, president of the company that owns the town’s homes and commercial buildings, tells the Lost Coast Outpost that he learned of the layoffs yesterday. He said that he was saddened to learn of the closure — about 15 residents of the town are expected to lose work — but wished to stress that residents and businesses should see no change to their power bill.

In a press release, Greenleaf Power cites three reasons for the move: An inability to secure stable supplies of wood waste to power the plant’s turbines, an inability to reach a long-term contract with PG&E and unspecified upcoming regulatory changes that the company believes might affect its operations. The former of these is a familiar problem on the North Coast: With the decline of the Humboldt County timber industry, businesses that grew up with a steady supply of waste product from lumber milling operations — biomass plants, cogeneration facilities and the pulp mills — have had a hard time securing sufficient fuel.

Greenleaf said in the release that it hopes to open the plant back up in 2013.

Apart from the loss of jobs, the closure is a setback for the town’s efforts to wean itself away from total dependence on the vicissitudes of the timber industry. It has recently lured a number of manufacturers to set up shop in town, including Eel River Brewing. “Diversification in the marketplace and the industrial base is a goal of mine,” Bacik said.

Renewable power advocates also have reason to lament: The closure takes up to 28 megawatts of locally produced renewable electricity offline.”

THE MORNING OF October 1, 2012 at 8:07pm on Highway 1, north of Fern Creek Ezequil Sanchez, 20, was driving a 1987 Mazda RX-7 northbound on Highway 1 at approximately 55mph, according to the CHP. He and his passenger, Hector Lerma, 26, both Fort Bragg residents, had just passed Fern Creek in Casper. An unidentified 58-year old female pedestrian from Fort Bragg was crossing the road north of the intersection of Fern Creek and Highway 1. The pedestrian was wearing dark clothing. Mr. Sanchez failed to see the pedestrian, and she was struck while in the northbound traffic lane. The impact resulted in fatal injuries to the female pedestrian. The cause of this collision is still under investigation, but drugs and alcohol are not believed to be a factor.

COME CELEBRATE summer's bounty with a delicious meal of fresh salmon and locally-sourced food prepared with love by the Spontaneous Cafe! Farm-to-Table Benefit Dinner & Pie Auction! What: This event is a benefit for the Daisy Davis Pit Bull Rescue and the Noyo Food Forest. When: Friday, September 28th. Activities begin at 5pm, Dinner served promptly at 7 pm.  Where: Caspar Community Center  Details: This is a family friendly event, as always. You are welcome to join us for a glass of wine and activities before dinner, and/or stay for the meal. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options available.  ~ Pre-Dinner Activities ~  * Live music by lovely local ladies Gwyneth Moreland & Angela Rose * Seasonal Pie Auction featuring fresh picked blackberries and apples w/ gluten-free options * Glitter Tattoos – A shimmering selection of temporary tattoos for kids of all ages  * A fun Craft Project set up for the kids using recycled bottles * Silent Art Auction - Animal related art pieces will be donated by kids under 18 and put up for auction  Dinner Tickets: $25 for adults, $10 for kids under 12. Note: We are preselling tickets (instead of taking RSVPs). Please purchase your ticket to ensure that we will have a place at the table for you! Tickets are available for purchase at The Floor Store in Fort Bragg. Contact Sarah regarding ticket purchase in Mendocino or Ukiah.  Questions? Contact Monica at The Floor Store (707)964-8889, 144 N. Franklin St. Fort Bragg, CA or email sarah.bodnar@gmail.com  We do need a few more volunteers for the event. If you are interested in helping out with food prep, serving or cleanup, please contact Sarah ASAP.  Please help us spread the word by forwarding this invitation to your friends. You can follow the event (and the evolving menu!) on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/258479084255434/  * Please note that we love your pooches, but dogs are not invited to this event.

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