Valley Fire Update: 3,000 Homeless, Cost Likely ‘Hundreds of Millions’

A burned car sits near a swing set in Middletown on Sept. 19, when residents of the community hit hard by the Valley Fire were allowed to return and check their properties.

A burned car sits near a swing set in Middletown on Sept. 19, when residents of the community hit hard by the Valley Fire were allowed to return and check their properties. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

Update, 6:40 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23: Federal emergency responders are on the ground in Lake County assessing damage from one of the most destructive wildfires in California’s recent history.

William Fugate, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, joined state and local officials for an update from the Valley Fire Wednesday afternoon.

“We can provide some financial assistance based upon need,” he said. “The first part is getting registered to determine that need, but the longer-term need is going to be housing. And we’re going to work with the state and locals on how we get the housing needs met.”

Fugate encouraged people who suffered uninsured losses in the fire to register with FEMA as soon as possible.

State officials estimate the fire left roughly 3,000 people homeless.

“There’s no silver bullet to this particular issue,” state Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci said. “There is a patchwork of capability that we’re looking at. We’re looking at everything from hotels to what rental properties may be available, to opening an old resort — the Konocti Harbor [Resort], to also putting manufactured housing on the ground.”

The fire’s confirmed death toll rose Wednesday morning when the Lake County Sheriff’s Department announced the discovery of a fourth body in ruins left by the fire.

“Our hearts and minds and prayers go out to all of them,” Lake County Supervisor Jim Comstock said, “but we are very encouraged there are not more of them at this time. Our communities will rebuild.”

The county expects to lose $2.1 million in property tax revenue per year. The total cost of the fire is, of course, much higher.

“It’s conceivable and realistic that the cost overall when you take in loss of revenue, response cost and everything, clearly is in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” Ghilarducci said. “We don’t have an exact figure yet.”

Officials candidly described a fire that moved too quickly to control, with initial firefighters and other first responders on the scene quickly shifting from fighting the flames to attempting to evacuate communities in blaze’s path.

“We’re past the preparing for fire now,” Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said. “It’s now being ready to go. People have to have evacuation plans in place. This fire spread miles just within a few hours.”

Some residents likely didn’t know they should evacuate until the fire was upon them, officials said, despite notifications sent via reverse-911 calls, among other methods.

“I don’t think people understand how rapid and how violent this fire was,” Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin said. “In some cases those phone lines were burned down before the messages were delivered to people.”

Update, 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23: Officials in Lake County say they’ve found an apparent fourth victim of the Valley Fire.

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office reported Wednesday that searchers had discovered human remains in the community of Cobb, one of the areas the fire roared through shortly after it started the afternoon of Sept. 12.

The office said the victim is presumed to be Robert Taylor Fletcher, 66, who was last seen the day the fire started and was reported missing several days later.

Deputies are still trying to locate another missing man, identified as Rob Litchman, 61, a resident of the Siegler Springs area near the town of Lower Lake.

Cal Fire reported Wednesday that the 76,000-acre blaze is 80 percent contained. The firefighting agency also gave its latest report on the number of structures destroyed in the blaze: 1,238 homes and 672 outbuildings. With a total of 1,910 structures destroyed, the Valley Fire now ranks No. 3 on the agency’s list of most damaging fires since 1923.

Cal Fire says the number of structures incinerated in the Valley blaze, which has crossed into Sonoma and Napa counties, is likely to rise by several hundred when damage assessment teams are finally able to tour the entire fire area.

Update, 1:45 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21: Cal Fire has raised its estimate of homes destroyed in the Valley Fire to 1,050 — and warns the number could rise further.

Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said that damage assessment teams have covered about 80 percent of the 76,000 acres — nearly 120 square miles — that have burned since Sept. 12. The number of residences destroyed makes the Valley Fire the state’s fourth-most-damaging fire on a Cal Fire list that goes back to the 1923 Berkeley Hills disaster, which destroyed 584 homes in a neighborhood just north of the University of California campus.

The Valley Fire is now 70 percent contained with a huge force, more than 4,200 personnel, working to build lines around it.

Separately, the firefighting agency also issued a revised report on the number of homes burned in the Butte Fire, which has burned nearly 71,000 acres, or 111 square miles, in the foothills of Calaveras and Amador counties. With damage assessment continuing, the agency has documented 545 residences destroyed.

Authorities have confirmed three deaths so far in the Valley Fire and two in the Butte Fire.

Together, property losses in the two fires are the worst the state has seen since October 2003, when nearly 4,000 homes were lost in conflagrations that swept hundreds of square miles in San Diego and San Bernardino counties.

Update, 9:20 a.m. Friday, Sept. 18:

Firefighters advanced containment of the Valley Fire burning in Lake, Sonoma and Napa counties to 40 percent overnight, and one of two people still missing since the fire’s start was found safe.

The Associated Press reports that 56-year-old Edwin Null was discovered at a friend’s home Thursday night. Family members thought he was in the fire zone near Middletown.

Three people are confirmed killed in the fast-moving, 115-square-mile fire that destroyed parts of Middletown, Cobb and other Lake County communities. Two people were found dead in the 110-square-mile Butte Fire burning in the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento.

The Butte Fire was 60 percent contained Friday morning. More than 8,000 firefighters are battling the two blazes. Cal Fire says temperatures expected to break 90 degrees this weekend, with very low humidity, could present challenges to the firefighting effort.

Causes of the fires are under investigation. Cal Fire is investigating a PG&E power line and conductor as a potential source of the Butte Fire. PG&E says a live tree, which was inspected six times in the past two years, may have contacted the power line.

Update, 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17:

From the Associated Press:

Two more bodies were found in the burned ruins of homes in California, bringing the death toll to five from two of the most destructive wildfires in the state in recent memory.

Both fires continued burning Thursday, but cooler weather and rain helped firefighters gain ground on the blazes that have destroyed more than 700 homes.

Official identifications have not yet been made, but the sheriff’s office said the two bodies found in Lake County were presumed to be those of Bruce Beven Burns and former San Jose Mercury News police reporter Leonard Neft.

A woman was found dead Sunday in the blaze burning about 100 miles north of San Francisco.

Shirley Burns said her 65-year-old brother-in-law might have been sleeping in his trailer and didn’t realize the fire was speeding toward him on Saturday.

“It came in very fast, it was a monster,” she said from her home in Lodi.

She recalled Burns as a laid-back guy who sold items at a Clear Lake flea market and lived in a trailer at the family’s metal recycling yard.

“He reminded me of a big teddy bear,” Shirley Burns said. “He was a real kind and gentle person. He had a beard and looked like a mountain man.”

Neft’s wife and daughter were not immediately available for comment on Thursday.

He last spoke with his family on Saturday before authorities found his burned-out car on a route he would have used to escape.

His daughter, Joselyn Neft, previously said Adela Neft repeatedly called her husband Saturday to tell him to leave the house, but he told her he didn’t think the fire was coming toward him.

Neft’s house was in the same area where Barbara McWilliams, 72, was found dead. She told her caretaker she didn’t want to leave her home near Middletown and would be fine.

Cadaver dogs found the latest bodies on Wednesday in the Hidden Valley and Anderson Springs areas.

Two other bodies were found inside homes destroyed in a separate wildfire about 170 miles away in the Sierra Nevada foothills, Calaveras County coroner Kevin Raggio said.

One was identified as Mark McCloud, 65, who was found Tuesday in the Mountain Ranch area.

Raggio wouldn’t release the name of the other victim because the family had not been notified.

The disclosures came as firefighters gained ground on the massive blazes amid cooler weather and rain on Wednesday.

The fire in Lake County had charred 115 square miles and was 35 percent contained. An estimated 585 homes and hundreds of other structures have burned.

The fire in Amador and Calaveras counties has burned 110 square miles. It was 49 percent contained after destroying 252 homes.

Update, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16: Calaveras County coroner Kevin Raggio confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that two people have died in the Butte Fire.

Mark McCloud, 67, was found near his home in Calaveras County. The second victim was a 65-year-old man who refused to heed a mandatory evacuation order, says Raggio. He declined to identify the second man, saying the family hasn’t been notified.

Authorities say they are now using dogs to search for several other people who may have been killed in that fire.

Cal Fire reported this morning that the fire now stands at 73,700 acres, with 35 percent containment.

Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a power line coming into contact with a tree may have sparked the Butte Fire, which has now burned more than 71,000 acres.

“While we don’t have all the facts yet, a live tree may have contacted a PG&E line in the vicinity of the ignition point,” Barry Anderson, PG&E vice president of emergency preparedness and operations, said Wednesday to the Chronicle. “We are cooperating fully with Cal Fire in an investigation of whether this could have been a source of ignition for the Butte Fire.”

Update, 3:00 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16: A second life has been claimed by massive wildfires that swept through Northern California this week. The Calaveras County Sheriff has confirmed a fatality resulting from the Butte Fire, according to an update posted on Twitter by Cal Fire public information officer Daniel Berlant. More information is expected soon. The Butte Fire has predominantly impacted Calaveras County, and was 45 percent contained as of the most recent update. So far, the Butte Fire has destroyed just over 400 structures.

Update: 1:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 16:
There are currently 14,000 firefighters across the state of California battling 10 active blazes, Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said in a Wednesday update. But crews are making progress.

The Valley Fire, which has already been designated as the most destructive wildfire in 2015, has caused one known fatality and scorched about 100 square miles, with more than 600 structures damaged in the blaze. That property toll doesn’t include barns or sheds that went up in flames along with homes burnt to the ground.

“When all the other outbuildings are assessed and a full damage assessment is complete, it is likely that this fire will be in the top five most destructive fires that we have seen in our history,” Berlant said.

Firefighters are making progress, thanks in part to cooler temperatures — the Valley Fire was 30 percent contained as of Wednesday morning. At the same time, another weather-related factor was working against their efforts. A number of hot spots continue to smolder throughout the fire zone, and these small fiery patches can be reignited by gusty winds. Those powerful gusts can spur flare-ups and threaten to reverse firefighters’ progress in bringing blazes under control.

Farther to the east, in Calaveras and Amador counties, firefighters were also making progress in gaining control of the Butte Fire, which has scorched 71,780 acres and already ranks as the state’s 14th most damaging blaze. The Butte Fire now stands at 45 percent containment.

Throughout the affected areas, thousands of people who have been put up for days at evacuation centers are still waiting to return.

“There are still thousands of residents who have been evacuated from this fire,” Berlant said of the Valley Fire. “Many are asking when can they get back home, and we are hoping to get them back just as soon as possible. But you’ve got to remember, there are a lot of hazards.”

Update 4:15 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 15: The Valley Fire has caused at least $1 million in damage to California’s largest geothermal energy complex.

The fire disabled five cooling towers at The Geysers network of power plants, northwest of Middletown.

Brett Kerr, a spokesman for Calpine, which runs the plant, said the fire may have also left it isolated from the power grid.

“Some of the non-Calpine-owned transmission lines that deliver the power that is produced to the Geysers to the actual market were also damaged, so while there might be the ability to generate capacity and energy at the Geysers, it may not be able to make it to the grid,” he said.

Officials who manage the grid say damage at The Geysers will not have a significant impact on the state’s energy supply.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle is reporting investigators are focusing on a burned-out shed in Cobb, where the fire started, in trying to pinpoint the cause of the conflagration.

Update: 2 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 15:

At this morning’s fire briefing, medical officials cautioned firefighters to watch out for signs of stress. A lot of firefighters are local, officials said, and they know plenty of fire victims.

Of course, the worst anxiety is being experienced by those who have had to leave their homes and belongings behind. From KQED health reporter April Dembosky’s post on our State of Health blog today:

For a lot of other people here, the anxiety of not knowing [the fate of their homes] is getting to them. Dr. Colleen Townsend, a family practice doctor in Napa, is helping to staff the makeshift medical center inside one of the buildings on the fairgrounds. She says anxiety is one of the main complaints. And that is making other health conditions worse.

“So many folks in this area are really affected by chronic illness,” Townsend says, especially diabetes and high blood pressure. Because people were evacuated so quickly, many didn’t have time to grab medications.

“Certainly in these settings their blood sugar and blood pressure are already rising just from the stress of the occasion,” Townsend said. “Without adequate supplies of their medicines, that can cause acute symptoms like feeling shaky, nausea, sometimes dehydration.”

People have also been worried about their pets. Some residents are being escorted back into evacuation zones to retrieve them. It’s dangerous out there for animals, as can be seen in this post by a veterinary clinic in Lakeport. The clinic is treating a burned black cat that was rescued by firefighters near Middletown.

cat

It’s disturbing, yes, but fear not, the cat is doing much better. “Eyes are improving fast!! He’s purring and rubbing his head for kitty kisses!! Thanks for all the inquiries!!” the clinic wrote.  If you know who the owner is, call 707-263-5380.

cat2

 

Update 1:40 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 15 

In  Napa County, near Pope Valley and Angwin, advisory evacuations have been lifted for Summit Lake Drive, Howell Mountain Road North, North White Cottage Road and Ink Grade Road.

Update 10:40 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 15

In an emotional letter to his colleagues on Monday, Santa Rosa Press Democrat staff photographer Kent Porter captured the havoc caused by the fire:

I am floored by the amount of devastation I’ve seen. Whole communities were wiped off the map in a matter of minutes. We all have friends up there, families and people we’ve met in passing. What struck me the most is the utter completeness of this disaster.

Virtually nothing is left above the proper of Cobb. The houses are down to foundations, even some chimneys are gone. Driving through the area is like looking at a ghost community.  So much gone, so many ways of life disrupted, so much hardship remains for the people affected. In Middletown, you can draw a line where firefighters stopped the fire.  They saved downtown. Anderson Springs is nearly 80% wiped out, same goes for the homes along Highway 175 in the canyon to Cobb.  Hidden Valley suffered losses too, as did Hobergs and Adams Springs. I didn’t make it to Siegler Canyon, it was way too dangerous (but I did try).

We’re all journalists, we’ve all seen catastrophes and witnessed amazing, great things. If there is anything you can donate, especially for the children and seniors, now would be a good time.  Overwhelmed is pretty good word to use when you think of what an uphill climb it will be for them.

Update 10 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 15: In this morning’s update from Cal Fire, the agency said more resources have been arriving to fight the Valley Fire. Firefighting aircraft are now in operation, and lower temperatures and higher humidity are aiding efforts.

The toll of homes destroyed now stands at 585, and hundreds of other structures have also been destroyed. Nine thousand other structures are still threatened.

The fire has now scorched 67,000 acres — about 100 square miles — and is 15 percent contained. The hope is containment can be increased before the weather shifts again. About 13,000 people have been evacuated from their homes.

Areas surrounding the town of Cobb were hit hard yesterday, with about 100 homes burned. The Friends of Cobb Mountain Facebook page has been posting local reports of damage.

Here is the latest map of the Valley Fire from Cal Fire. You can see the small communities that have been swallowed up in red — places like Adams, Howard Springs, Whispering Pines, Hidden Valley Lake. Click on the map and you’ll be able to zoom in.

firemap

Evacuation orders in parts of Napa County have been made advisory instead of mandatory. From the Napa Valley Register:

The advisory evacuations cover Pope Valley Road between Aetna Springs Road and Howell Mountain Road, Ink Grade, Summit Lake Drive and North White Cottage.

Mandatory evacuations remain in effect in Napa County along Butts Canyon Road, Berryessa Estates, Snell Valley Road and Pope Valley Road from Aetna Springs North to Lake County.

Mandatory evacuation orders still remain in effect for:

Hwy 29 x Hwy 53, South on Hwy 29 to Tubbs Lane in Napa County, all of Hwy 175 in the Cobb area, Point Lakeview to Soda Bay on Hwy 281, all of Bottle Rock Road and High Valley Road. Butts Canyon Road from Hwy 29 to Napa County line (including all of Berryessa Estates). The communities of Twin Lakes, Hidden Valley Lake, Middletown, Aetna Springs, Seigler Canyon, Loch Lomond, and the Riviera Areas.

Fire officials said today some people are being allowed back into their homes to get pets and medication. A high school near Lower Lake is being used as a staging area to bring people to their homes, reports KQED’s Scott Shafer. Residents will have 15 minutes to check, feed and water animals.

Monday night in the Kelseyville High School cafeteria, now being used as an evacuation center, hundreds of people lined up for a dinner prepared and donated by celebrity chef Guy Fieri, who owns property nearby. The feast was small consolation for evacuees like Lela Prather, who lives in Loch Lomond, another Lake County community now threatened.

“I haven’t heard recently about our houses,” she told Scott Shafer, her voice cracking with emotion. “We don’t know if our houses are there right now. Because the wind has picked up and … I don’t know.”

Many people were similarly  emotional as they waited and wondered what they’ll go home to — including the condition of pets, in some cases — when Cal Fire finally gives them the green light to return.

Despite the severe stress and loss of property caused by the fire, some Lake County residents saw a silver lining, in that it has brought the community together.

Walt Frazier Jr., vice president of the local Vietnam Veterans chapter, sheltered at Kelseyville High School last night. He said he was impressed by how people have united across cultural and economic barriers.

“We’ve had helicopters coming in, helping out, aircraft coming out,” he said. “But what I’m seeing are the citizens, the residents, including the ones who’ve been displaced, helping out with one another, calming each other down emotionally. Because this is an emotional impact on the whole county.”

Also yesterday: Barbara McWilliams was identified as the lone fire-related fatality. She told her caretaker she didn’t want to leave her home near Middletown, despite the nearby blaze. Her body was found late Sunday in her burned-out home after flames kept Lake County sheriff’s officials from reaching her.

Jennifer Hittson, McWilliams’ caregiver, told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that she left McWilliams’ home around 3 p.m. Saturday, unaware of the fire’s seriousness or how quickly it would grow, even though officers were at that point turning drivers away from Highway 175, which leads to the Cobb Mountain area where McWilliams lived.

Hittson said she called the sheriff’s office twice Saturday and Cal Fire on Sunday, only to be told by dispatchers, “We will get out there when we can.”

Hittson saiid McWilliams could walk slowly and that her hands were weak. “That I left her there, it haunts me,” she said.

Update: 8:45 p.m., Monday, Sept. 14: According to the latest report from authorities stationed in Lakeport, the Valley Fire had grown to 62,000 acres as of Monday evening, 1,000 acres larger than its previous size, and was at 10 percent containment.

Meanwhile, a report in the Los Angeles Times identified the woman who was killed in the Valley Fire as 72-year old Barbara McWilliams, who suffered from multiple sclerosis. The report includes an account from McWilliams’ caretaker, Jennifer Hittson, who said she’d phoned authorities more than once to alert them that McWilliams needed evacuation assistance.

Update: 4:35 p.m., Monday, Sept. 14: The Lake County Sheriff’s Office has released more information about the first victim killed in the Valley Fire. First responders received a phone call at 7:12 p.m. on Sept. 12 to help an elderly, disabled woman evacuate a subdivision on Hot Springs Road. Officers and deputies arrived to the area at 7:29 p.m., but were unable to make it to her home before the structure was engulfed in flames, according to a statement from the sheriff’s office.

Update: 1:30 p.m., Monday, Sept. 14: The Valley Fire has damaged The Geysers, a network of 14 power plants run by Calpine and one of the largest geothermal complexes in the world. Calpine has confirmed that the blaze damaged five of its cooling towers.

“The vast majority of the employees who would typically be working today were notified not to try to come to the site,” spokesman Brett Kerr told KQED’s Ted Goldberg.

The company sells electricity produced in the area to PG&E and other utilities. Calpine reduced its operations in response to the damage, impacting roughly a third of its energy output.

Meanwhile, at a medical tent set up at an evacuation center in Calistoga, Red Cross volunteers and staff from a nearby clinic were working to treat evacuees experiencing health problems. While smoke inhalation was a more immediate medical concern yesterday, evacuees are now grappling with symptoms associated with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

Many residents who fled their homes left too quickly to take prescription medication along, volunteers working in the medical tent told KQED’s April Dembosky. Evacuees suffering from diabetes are more vulnerable to health impacts because stress and anxiety can exacerbate the condition.

As of early Monday morning, the Valley Fire had scorched some 61,000 acres since Saturday and was only 5 percent contained. The Butte Fire, which has been burning for more than five days, was 30 percent contained with more than 71,000 acres scarred by flames. At a press conference held Monday morning, Gov. Jerry Brown pegged the total cost of California wildfires at $212.6 million through early last week, before factoring in the costs of this weekend’s devastating blazes.

Update: 11:06 a.m., Monday, Sept. 14:  A total of 23,000 people had been displaced by the Valley and Butte fires as of Monday morning, according to the Associated Press. That includes 13,000 who were forced to leave their homes due to the Valley Fire and another 10,000 from the Butte Fire.

Update: 10:10 a.m., Monday, Sept 14:  The Valley Fire has devastated Harbin Hot Springs, a popular nonprofit retreat and workshop center established in 1972 that has long attracted Bay Area residents seeking holistic health therapies. Michael Hardy of Posterity Productions posted seven photographs on Facebook showing a number of structures reduced to rubble, including gathering spaces where guests would practice yoga and walkways that led to soaking pools.

An update posted to the retreat center’s Facebook page Sunday at 10 p.m. indicated that staff and residents were staying with friends, or being temporarily housed at evacuation centers. “As soon as we know specifics about damages on the property, we will post news here and on the Harbin website,” the message noted.

Meanwhile, about 800 people spent last night at the Red Cross evacuation center in Calistoga in campers, tents or just under tarps. Many of those who had to evacuate are still trying to get over the shock of leaving their homes as the flames encroached.

“We could see it on the mountain. It just came, it came with a vengeance, it came so fast,” said Theresa DeGroat. “And then we knew. Winds came, it was strong winds, and we had to get out fast.”

DeGroat says the only thing left of her Middletown home is the chimney.

Update: 8:15 a.m., Monday, Sept. 14: Cal Fire’s morning update says the fire continues to grow and has now scorched 61,000 acres. The blaze is 5 percent contained. Still no word on the one fatality reported — Cal Fire says only that it’s being investigated by “law enforcement.”

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat puts the evacuation count at 20,000 people.

Update: 10:00 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 13: The Valley Fire is raging through parts of Lake and Napa counties. It has burned through 50,000 acres and destroyed 400 homes, two apartment complexes, 1,000 outbuildings and 10 businesses, by last count. It has also taken the life of at least one person, Cal Fire says, and injured at least four firefighters. Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in the two counties. About 17,000 people have been evacuated from their homes, KXTV-Sacramento is reporting, and containment is thus far zero percent.

Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin called the fire “the worst tragedy Lake County has ever seen,” the Santa Rosa Press Democrat said.

At the Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga, one of two evacuation centers that have been established, officials estimated about 800 evacuees had been taken in tonight, sleeping in tents and trailers. Officials are warning those who have left their homes not to give their addresses online, as potential burglars are posing as members of the media who are offering to check on the status of abandoned residences.

Others are using the Internet to better ends: Here’s a damage report, posted on the Friends of Cobb Mountain Facebook page, detailing the condition of various areas in Cobb — population under 2,000.  “There are simply no words to express the terrible fullness of our loss,” reads a post from Saturday. “Many of us in the community have lost our homes, pets, property, and so much more. But let’s remember that a community is, at its heart, people. We will return, we will rebuild …

Click here for a map of the fire’s perimeter.

perimeter

News accounts have also captured the sudden devastation that has swept through victims’ lives. “I’m standing in the middle of a bombed-out town,” a Cal Fire battalion chief told the New York Times, speaking of 1,300-resident Middletown in Lake County, roughly 90 miles north of San Francisco. “I’m on a block of burned-down structures. There’s the frame of a mobile home — that’s all that’s left. The cars are burned-out hulks. The trees look like skeletons. There’s a porch swing, a bathtub. I’m seeing the remnants of somebody’s life.”

“My house burned down. Everything burned down,” 33-year-old Justin Olson told the Napa Valley Register. “All I have is just what I had on me. Didn’t even have a car — I hitchhiked down here; someone stopped and I jumped into the back of his pickup truck. All you could see was this big wall of fire coming toward us …”

Many have posted devastating photos using the #ValleyFire hashtag on Twitter.

The Valley Fire is one of the fastest-burning in decades. It took just 12 hours to burn through 40,000 acres, the L.A. Times reported.

“There aren’t very many fires in California’s history that have done that. I don’t know if there really is a precedent for it,” climate scientist Daniel Swain told the paper. “This fire sort of broke the rules even relative to this incredible season that’s already occurred.”

“It wasn’t even a fire. It was like fluorescent evil,” Whispering Pines resident Bill Gavin told the Press Democrat. “I saw sections like football fields go up in four seconds.”

Here is a hair-raising video posted by someone who said he was fleeing Anderson Springs.

Here’s a Press Democrat video of the devastation in Middletown.

Below is a map of all the active fires in California. The Butte Fire, burning in Amador & Calaveras Counties, is now at 65,300 acres, or about 102 square miles.  That’s slightly larger than the city of Sacramento. The fire  is 25 percent contained. So far, 135 residences and 79 outbuildings have been destroyed, Cal Fire says.


Update: 5:30 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 13:
At a 5 p.m. briefing at the Napa Fairgrounds, Cal Fire officials said that most of the commercial business in Middletown and the high school remain intact, but many homes off the main drag have been impacted. Chris Childs of the Napa CHP said it will be at least two days before residents can return to their homes.

Update: 4:45 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 13:
State fire officials are reporting the Valley Fire has increased to 50,000 acres, with containment remaining at zero percent. The Associated Press has called the Valley Fire one of the “fastest-burning wildfires in decades.”

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for the following locations:

Point Lakeview Hwy and Hwy 281, Rivera West and Clearlake Rivera, Hwy 29 (Kelseyville) at Hwy 175 south on Hwy 175 towards Cobb, Red Hills Road to Hwy 29, Hwy 29 X Hwy 175 south to Seigler Canyon Road (south side of Hwy 29), Hwy 29 Tubbs Lane (Calistoga, Napa County) to Hwy 29/Hwy 53(Lower Lake, Lake County) Butts Canyon Road to Napa County Line, including Berreyssa Estates, Butts Canyon Road to Pope Valley. Communities of Cobb, Seigler Canyon, Loch Lomond, Middletown and Hidden Valley Lakes, Livermore Road, Summit Lake Road and north of the community of Angwin.

According to KQED reporter Danielle Venton at the Napa Fairgrounds in Calistoga, one of two current evacuation centers, evacuees have begun arriving and are numbering in the hundreds. However, the evacuee team anticipates closer to 1,000 at the fairgrounds by dinner time.

Venton says that, for the most part, spirits are up among evacuees and a sense of community is noticeable throughout. Some have started pickup football and soccer games, while others have picked up instruments and started jamming.

Tents for Valley Fire evacuees being set up at the Napa County Fairgrounds.
Tents for Valley Fire evacuees being set up at the Napa County Fairgrounds. (Danielle Venton, KQED)
Sydney, age 8, rescued her favorite stuffed animal, Fireheart, and her bow and arrow. She’s posed with her neighbors chickens and her friend, Zack.
Sydney, age 8, rescued her favorite stuffed animal, Fireheart, and her bow and arrow. She’s posed with her neighbors chickens and her friend, Zack. (Danielle Venton, KQED)

Update: 12:15 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 13:

State fire and Lake County officials are surveying what’s believed to be a massive amount of destruction caused by the Valley Fire that’s prompted some 15,000 residents to flee their homes and sent smoke into nearby communities.

“I think it’s going to be pretty devastating,” said Jill Ruzicka, spokeswoman for the Lake County Office of Emergency Services. “All of us know people who have lost their homes.”

The Valley Fire is the third large wildfire to burn in Lake County in the last few months. Ruzicka said it is already, by far, the most destructive to people’s livelihoods.

“It’s difficult for us to come to full staff right now because so many of our people are either under evacuation notices or have lost their homes,” Ruzicka said.

Cal Fire has yet to publish any official data on the number of structures damaged or destroyed by the blaze, but reports are coming in and it looks bad.

“I have seen some destruction in and around the Middletown area,” said Amy Head, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire.

“There are parts that I couldn’t even make into myself,” Head said from Hidden Valley, another community under evacuation orders.

Residents who fled from Middletown told the Associated Press the cars they were driving dodged smoldering telephone poles and billowing smoke as they left.

The blaze is believed to have started on Cobb Mountain, an area that normally gets lots of rain. The drought has obviously changed that.

“For a fire to spread from there all the way to where it is now is very unprecedented,” Head said. The lack of rain, Saturday’s strong winds, and the area’s low humidity and hot temperatures were all factors that helped the fire spread so quickly.

More than 1,000 firefighters are battling the blaze. Cal Fire says getting more of them to the scene is difficult.

“We’re having to place orders for additional resources,” Head said. “We are spread pretty thin throughout Northern California with the other fires, so we’re having to pull resources from wherever we can.”

The fire has sent ash and smoke miles away. “It almost looks like Bay Area fog, we are so socked in with this smoke,” Ruzicka said from Lakeport, about 25 miles northwest of Middletown. “This morning when I woke up, my car was covered in ash.”

The Red Cross has set up two shelters: one at Kelseyville High School at 5480 Main St. in Kelseyville and another at the Napa County Fairgrounds at 1435 N. Oak St. in Calistoga. According to the Red Cross, a community meeting is planned at the Kelseyville site at 2 p.m. and at the Calistoga one at 5 p.m.

Update: 8:40 a.m.: From the Associated Press

Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in Lake and Napa counties after a wildfire charred more than 60 square miles within 12 hours, prompting thousands to flee their homes.

Brown said Sunday the declaration will expedite debris removal and waive fees to people who need to replace official documents lost in the fire.

The blaze, about 100 miles north of San Francisco, has destroyed an unconfirmed number of homes and other buildings and damaged highways and other infrastructure.

Brown had earlier declared a state of emergency for a separate 101-square-mile wildfire about 70 miles southeast of Sacramento that has destroyed 86 homes.

Original Post: Bay City News Service

The Valley Fire that started in Lake County Saturday has now  burned an estimated 40,000 acres and is zero percent contained as of this  morning, according to Cal Fire officials.

Additional mandatory evacuations have been ordered in Lake County from state Highway 29 and state Highway 175 to Seigler Canyon Road, and for state Highway 29 at state Highway 175 toward Cobb, and Red Hills Road to state  Highway 29.

More than 1,000 firefighters are fighting the fire and getting people evacuated from the area.

Areas of Napa County are under advisory and could be under mandatory evacuations later today.

The fire injured four firefighters who were part of a helicopter crew Saturday. The firefighters suffered burn injuries and were transported  to an area burn center.

Cal Fire is reporting there have been an unconfirmed number of structures destroyed in the fire.

There are currently more than 5,000 residents without power.

David Weir, Don Clyde, Ted Goldberg, Alex Emslie, Danielle Venton and Sheri Quinn contributed to this report.

Valley Fire Update: 3,000 Homeless, Cost Likely ‘Hundreds of Millions’ 24 September,2015KQED News Staff and Wires

  • Richard

    Why do none of the news organizations give any information about the actual locations, or the current or even a previous perimeter of the fire? Knowing what places are evacuated or which roads are closed doesn’t tell us nearly enough. I have a house up there but there isn’t a clue about where the fire actually is other than Middletown burned. Your pictures and most of the pictures on TV don’t even say where they were taken from. Very disappointing coverage.

    • davidweir

      We do not yet have any accurate information about the fire’s footprint, Richard, because it exploded so suddenly. We are waiting on CalFire’s air assets to update our coverage. –David Weir

  • Duc Le

    Hi,
    I live in San Jose. Where can I donate food, clothes..etc?

    Thanks

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